Secret Power and Full Disclosure

Ideas: Most professionals are aware of the insidious power of shame-filled secrets. We forget, however, that “positive” secrets can also be destructive, Secrets are often an unrecognized element in children’s placements.

Discussion: Secrets about wrongs, real or perceived, apply negative, dysfunctional forces to the lives of individuals and families. The classic secret of sexual abuse is especially insidious, bearing so much shame and such long-lasting trauma. The not-good-enough “secret” of so many of the children in foster care certainly burdens them and causes actions and reactions out of balance with life’s challenges. Professionals have long recognized the therapeutic value of exposing “secrets” to light and truth.

However, many child welfare professionals hold secrets perhaps assuming no destructive consequences. The classic secret practice had been the social worker’s who dared not tell the “new” family all that he understood about the child for fear of losing the resource. Full disclosure rules and policies are addressing these destructive practices more and more effectively. The secrets more common now are the hopes and expectations that workers and parents hold about one another and the child. Workers secretly hope that the foster/kin family will make a permanent commitment to the child, or that the adopted child will need only minimal mental health treatment. Families secretly believe that once the worker allows them to get on with their lives, things will be fine.

Hopes and expectations for the family that are kept secret have negative consequences. When the foster/kin family does not hold and heal the child, but instead “wants to give the child back”, workers blame families’ lack of commitment, not caring about the child, and “just in it for the money” attitude. Families blame workers for not telling them everything about the child. Ongoing, open frank discussions about hopes, expectations and dreams for the family are difficult. Both sides fear the loss of the perfect-family-solution myth. Having passed the “good parent” test, families are often loath to temper it for fear of losing the child or their status. Workers hesitate to talk about the vital importance of permanence for the child lest the family be scared off. What can we do to help workers engage families in this necessary, but often-difficult openness?

Source: By Robert Lewis, Reprinted with permission from the author. What Do You Think?, ©Volume 2, Issue # 4,  February 2001.


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