I’m not talking about labeling your sock drawer here!

When you get involved in the foster care system you will soon realize that the children in your home will more than likely have some kind of label.

Some get labeled with ADHD or Attachment Disorder. I know that there is a big debate out there about whether it is a good thing for kids to be labeled. Some parents are concerned, rightly in some cases, that the labels will hinder them in the future. Psychologists argue that labels are not a bad thing because it gives them a starting place for helping the children.

In the case of foster kids I think the debate needs to be a little bit different. For one thing it is critically important that these kids get the services they need. Without getting a diagnosis foster children will struggle along with out getting what they need to get better. These kids are already dealing with a lot of things that they, frankly, shouldn’t be having to deal with. If we don’t do a good job of figuring out what kinds of help they need, we are not helping them as much as we could be.

Here are a few things I have learned about labels so far.

1. Accurately identifying the issues foster kids are dealing with helps them in court.

In the process of figuring out what will happen when a family goes through “the system” kids often become pawns in the system. When the issue is abuse or neglect the CPS workers, lawyers, and Psychologists have to figure out what happened and how it effected the children. When everything is figured out in court, knowing how they have been effected is a big part of deciding what is in the best interests of the child.

2. Foster parents are better able to understand their children when they understand what is going on with them.

If a child is evaluated and labeled with a disorder the foster parents essentially are given a toolbox of information to help the child recover. When children are not evaluated the foster parents are a little bit handicapped.

3. We need to be careful with labels.

The key here is to make sure that we are using the label to help figure out how to help them and not to think of them in terms of their disorder. What we definitely don’t want to do is to categorize the child and only think of them in terms of their label. The label is only there to give us the tools we need to help the children, not to simply categorize them.

Bottom line, labels are important for foster kids because they help us get them the services they need. We just need to be careful about how we use labels.

Kids are much more than their labels.