I want all the kids in my care to feel like they matter.
One of the things I think a lot about is how few pictures kids in foster care have of themselves. I have the luxury of looking back on albums & boxes of old photos my parents took of my brothers & I. They are the thread that wove the narrative of my youngest years. I know what I looked like with missing teeth, or was wearing at my first day of kindergarten. My baby books validate my growth & early milestones. My first Christmas tree. How my body & style & identity evolved over time. It's all right there. I can access it whenever I want. My story is documented & that makes me feel like I matter. Feeling important & worthy was so firmly part of my early childhood that I still benefit from that foundation as an adult. When a 6 week old baby boy was placed with us before Christmas last year, we picked out his first Christmas outfit & had his first picture taken with Santa. He'll always have pictures of his first Christmas tree & his first snowfall. His Mom celebrates Christmas. His older brother and sisters celebrate Christmas. It was important to us to do this very normal, celebratory thing for him.
Here's the thing, though.
We are two white women whom often foster black, biracial or mixed kids. I'm an artist with trendy hair and tattoos. My better half is a therapist who easily passes for stereotypical 'straight.' We get a LOT of stares in public. This feels concerning to us. Recently, we became more interested in building community & began looking for families that looked similar to ours. While hunting, we noticed there seem to be 3 schools of thought about photographing children who are in foster care: Don't. Do. And do, but don't show their faces.
I get it. Totally. I can empathize with the urge to want to celebrate these precious little ones. I understand the stuff that comes up. Like...do we send pics to parents & families of origin to share their child's growth while with us? What do we pass on to their social worker for their file? Do we share pics of them with our own friends & family via social media to express our love & invite others into our journey as foster parents? And what about facial recognition software? Sometimes it feels like a tough call. I've seen some pretty creative cover-ups on Instagram; stickers, banners, shadows, text, cropping. I think people have the best of intentions. And while I can't speak to the intentions of others, I can tell you ours.
With great power cometh great responsibility.
In this day of digital overdrive, the opportunities for documenting our stories are abundant (obvi). There are apps for shooting & editing photos & videos we take on our phones, and social media outlets to share those moments. Instagram lets us share our images and push our creative agenda forward; Twitter gives us a voice; Facebook creates community; Soundcloud actually records our voice for the world stage. Here's where we're at with this. We believe it's important for people to see all types of families (and we happen to think ours is pretty special). We know that one way to stomp out stigma and spread awareness about blended & same-sex families is simply through exposure, & we know that images can be powerful. We take a lot of pictures. We shoot a ton of video. We do a lot of fun stuff as a family. We celebrate a lot of triumphant moments. We document difficult times when we feel it's appropriate to.
That said, we feel strongly that it is (A) our responsibility to protect the identity and safety of our kids while honoring our family journey in this world and (B) to document our kiddos' growth while in our care so that their lifelong narrative includes having visual access to this period of time in their life.
-Foster Mom (the artist)