What not to include in a public narrative

A child’s public narrative is not the place for information that is negative or could identify the child, dissuade prospective adopters, or reveal private or sensitive information about the child.

Below are items we believe do not belong in a public child narrative because they could either identify the child or youth, dissuade prospective adopters, or reveal private or sensitive information about the child. Much of this can and should be disclosed later with home-studied prospects who are interested in this particular child, through a private narrative  or other private communication.

Identifying information

Protect children’s safety and privacy by not including a child’s last name, date of birth, or names of school, school district, neighborhood, or local organizations.

Details revealing abuse, neglect, and maltreatment

A child’s right to privacy related to the most intimate details of their history or birth family should not be lost simply because they need a family. Public narratives should not include the following information:

  • Information related to sexual abuse, sexual acting out, or references to the child as a potential perpetrator or victim, including code talk that might relate to sexual abuse (such as describing the child as overly affectionate with males, talking about the need to teach safe touch, or noting that the child should be the youngest in the family)
  • Information that suggests the possibility that the child could be a victim, such as stating that the child has no boundaries or has no sense of danger
  • Birth family history of abuse, neglect, physical or mental illness, domestic violence, criminal history, or substance abuse, including even brief references or allusions to a parent’s drug use or the child’s exposure to drugs or alcohol in utero
  • Reasons for the young person’s entry into care
  • The child’s trauma history

Placement information

Data on a child’s current or past placements is too personal to be shared in a public setting. Some placement details may reveal or suggest medical or behavioral challenges. Others (such as length of time in care or multiple placements) may make a child seem like too big a risk for prospective parents to take.

It’s best to avoid all of the following in public narratives:

  • Current placement type (such as residential treatment, group home, or juvenile justice setting)
  • Placement history, including number of placements in foster care or re-entry into care, or other information taken directly from the child’s case file regarding their placement history
  • How long the child has been in foster care or how long they have been waiting for an adoptive family
  • Information about why a foster family or relative is not interested in, or able to be, the child’s permanent placement
  • References to adoption interruption, disruption, or dissolution

Medical information

Since the passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996, there has been renewed attention on the need to protect individual’s confidential medical information. The spirit of the law should be considered when creating public profiles of waiting children.

Public narratives should not include:

  • Medical or mental health diagnoses, medication, and treatment, including whether the child has or is attending therapy or counseling or is a parent
  • Levels of, or statements about, a child’s physical impairments (While many photolistings have checkboxes or impairment levels to help match a child with prospective parents, we recommend that these functioning levels be shared in private narratives with prospective adoptive families who have an approved home study.)
  • Statements that a youth is pregnant or has recently given birth
  • Reports or statements from doctors, mental health providers, or other health care professionals
  • Reports or statements related to medical conditions or treatments from the child’s foster parent or other care providers
  • Clinical information from the child’s case file

Behavioral challenges

Too often, narratives of waiting children include negative information about their behaviors or other challenges. While we know that the challenges facing these young people are real—and their parents will need to be prepared and supported to address them—the public narrative is not the best avenue to share this information.

Do not include any of the following in individual children’s public narratives:

  • Aggressive behaviors, including anger, fighting, or oppositional acting out
  • Sexual behaviors, including the child as a current, past, or potential victim or perpetrator
  • Information about delinquency or juvenile justice involvement
  • Negative behaviors such as lying, running away, or stealing
  • References to a child acting younger than or being more mature than their same-age peers
  • Impairment levels related to a child’s behaviors

Potentially painful or embarrassing information

Below are examples of potentially painful or embarrassing information that should not be included in public narratives:

  • Mention of bodily functions (including incontinence and bedwetting) or hygiene challenges
  • Any descriptions of body type, including short, heavy, stocky, slender, or skinny
  • The child’s height or weight
  • Negative descriptions of the child’s appearance
  • References to the child’s fears or sources of anxiety
  • Anything else the youth could be embarrassed by if their peers saw it, such as if they have been bullied, have trouble making friends, are clumsy or awkward, are messy or sloppy, cry easily or often, or don’t do well at sports or in school

Descriptions that limit potential families

A public narrative that limits or discourages families reduces your chances of finding the adoptive family the child needs. 

We recommend against including the following in public narratives:

  • Discussion about the child’s reluctance to be adopted or emphasis on their unique need for preparation for adoption
  • Statements that suggest the writer may not believe adoption is an option for the child
  • Limits on the type of family who will be considered, including limits based on the parents’ marital status or family make-up, race or ethnic background, number or age of other children in the family, religion, or other such fixed characteristics

There are, of course, very real concerns about which family is right for a child and whether the family can meet the child’s needs and protect the child or others in their home. Rather than including such references in a public narrative, consider these situations on a case-by-case basis after an interested approved family has expressed interest.

Intellectual ability or education challenges

Any references to school should be general or positive. Like HIPAA for health information, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was passed to protect access to private educational information. We believe that the spirit of the law should govern information-sharing in children’s public narratives. Challenges can be shared later through a private narrative.

Do not include any of the following in a public narrative:

  • Intellectual or educational challenges, including allusions to challenges or to a child being nonverbal
  • References to special education status or an individualized education or Section 504 plan
  • Specific IQ score or range, even if it is high
  • References to specific disabilities that relate to school, education, or intellectual ability
  • Statements about a child’s educational impairment level
  • References about learning more slowly than or performing at a different grade level than their same age peers
  • References to actual grades or scores on assessments, even if they are positive

Sexual orientation or gender identity

Do not include statements about, or allusions to, the fact that the youth is lesbian, gay, or bisexual unless all three of the following criteria are met: (1) the narrative is for a teen who wants the listing to include their sexual orientation; (2) the youth has had thoughtful conversations with affirming adults about the potential positive and negative consequences; and (3) the youth has been involved in crafting the narrative and approves of how the information is presented.

Given the increased threats transgender individuals face (including higher incidence of assaults and suicide), we recommend against noting that a young person is transgender in a public narrative—even if the young person is comfortable with the listing.

Additional information to exclude

  • References to gender identity, including mixing pronouns, a name and gender identity that don’t match, or switching names 
  • Anything negative
  • Information or details the child asked to have excluded from the narrative.
  • Language that promotes stereotypes based on gender, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics. For example, talking about a child as a “girly girl” or as “all boy.”
  • Things the child isn’t, doesn’t do, or doesn’t like, even if it’s an effort to be positive. For example, rather than saying: “Simon isn’t aggressive and doesn’t talk back to his foster parents,” write from the positive: “Simon gets along well with others and is very respectful with adults.”
  • Adoption assistance eligibility. Including it in the narrative may make the child—or their peers—feel like someone has to be paid to adopt them.
  • Status as legally free or not legally free. In some cases, photolistings may allow prospective parents to search by whether a child is legally free. It is not a problem to check off a box that identifies if the child is legally free.
  • Disclosure of sensitive or potentially identifying information about any birth family members or siblings not in foster care, including criminal history, immigration status, and mental health history.
  • Links or references to a young person’s personal You Tube channel, web pages, or social media pages where people could access identifying information or even contact the child.
  • Outdated information (it’s best to update the profile regularly)
  • Spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors — have someone proofread each narrative before you publish it