How to protect children’s privacy in stories

How to protect children’s privacy in stories

I’ve enjoyed your magazine for the past couple of years, both informative and entertaining. I’ve seen the columns where you “give advice” and I could use a little help myself. I write fiction and my wife has just caught the “writing bug” and has decided to write about her adventures with our two kids and six foster kids.

In this day and age, legalities abound, so can you tell me if we can we use the children’s real names in her stories? I know we have to stay away from the circumstances that brought them too us. In the context of the story, can we tell “embarrassing things” such as bed wetting or things that they have said? My wife’s story is about her personal growth and what the children have taught her along the way. The children range in age between 4 and 9.

Thanks for your help and time.


I’m not an attorney, so this is only (as always) my opinion. You should check with an attorney for any legal advice.

With that said, my opinion is that you should give the children fictitious names and change enough of the circumstances so the stories can never be traced back to each child. While the child may not mind being the object of your story, their parents may someday decide to sue you. Oddly (and most of you will laugh at this), many people assume all authors are wealthy. Your wife should also consider writing under a pen name in order to further protect the children’s privacy.

You’re right to be wary of lawsuits in today’s society. Just last week, I refused to cash a neighbor’s welfare check. She needed the money, but I didn’t need a false accusation of welfare check fraud hanging over my head. She’s knows I’m an author and my defensive feelers went up when she asked that “favor.” Who calls a neighbor asking, essentially, for a loan? It just didn’t smell right to me. I don’t trust anyone when it comes to a potential lawsuit, and I suggest you don’t, either.

What you and your wife are doing for those children is incredible! But, the reality of the situation is the parents or even the children themselves may try to sue you someday for any reason at all. Take the simple and necessary steps to protect yourself now, and tell your wife to enjoy putting those stories on paper. Personal essays and memoirs are, of course, my favorite type of writing!