- Make it Safe: Welcome your child’s statements or questions about their birth family. Provide the child with opportunities to talk about anything that comes to their minds. As hard are some things are to hear just remember: if they can’t talk it out, they will act it out.
- Be calm: Your first reaction will set the stage either inviting the child to go on, or shutting them down. Talk of sexual goings on is taboo to many of us and your instinct may be to recoil and change the subject, particularly when taken by surprise. Make every effort to suppress that instinct.
- Listen! Make eye contact, nod, try for an expression of “caring, polite interest”. I would consciously try to note key information in my head while listening so I could report the details accurately.
- Allow the child to lead the conversation and allow them to end it when they want to. Our FD would actually say “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” When she was done. Respect the child’s boundaries.
- If the child is willing to engage in dialog, ask open ended questions only: what happened then? What happened next? Where were you? Can you show me? How did that make you feel? Believe me, I know you don’t want to hear or see ANY of the answers to these questions (I have images in my head that STILL make me think “that can’t be right, can it?”) but it is important to get details if the child is willing and able to provide them. You can cry later.
- Avoid leading questions: It is important to avoid even the appearance of planting ideas or leading the child. Don’t say “Did so-and-so do that?” or even “that must have been…” If you couldn’t understand the child ask them to repeat rather than saying what you thought heard.
- After the child relays the facts, thank the child for telling you, acknowledge that it’s hard to tell secrets, remind them that secrets are bad and telling the secrets is the right thing to do, reassure them nothing that happened was their fault. Offer consolation (“I’m sorry that happened to you.”), validate the child’s feelings (“I would have been scared too.”) and, if the child is comfortable, hold and rock the child while reassuring them you still care about them.
What to do afterwards:
- Let yourself feel. I found that the efforts of maintaining calmness during the disclosure needed an offsetting vent for the rage and sadness. I would talk to my husband, another foster parent, run on the treadmill or just take a bath and cry.