Facebook and Foster Care Part I: How to Maintain Confidentiality in the Digital Age
When I scroll through my facebook newsfeed, it’s filled with adorable photos of my friends’ children. My kids are incredibly cute, the only photos of adorable children I’ve posted are the stock photos from articles I’ve shared. Because confidentiality is important both out of respect for our foster kids and their families and for their safety, foster parents cannot post their photos (or share their information) on social media. In the digital age, when it seems like a moment is only real if it’s documented on facebook, instagram, and twitter, foster families can be left out. Some of my fellow foster parents post photos with the children’s back turned or their faces blurred or blocked by a heart or smiley face, but even that can be questionable. In general, it is better to share too little than too much.
Every family needs to consider what is best for their children in terms of their digital footprint, but foster parents need to be especially cautious. While you can post photos after an adoption is finalized, it is not always wise to do so. We are especially protective in some cases when there is a known safety issue with someone and we want to make sure they cannot find the child online. Social media restrictions can also go both ways as there is a clause in the parental surrender paperwork for our little guy’s parents that prohibits them from posting his image to social media.
When it is safe, social media can be used to stay in touch with the child’s family after they are reunited, but it’s still good to exercise caution. We used to text somewhat regularly with the Mom of one of our boys who returned home, but at some point she stopped replying. One day, I got a facebook message request out of the blue and she sent me an update with photos and videos of her son! She had lost her phone, but knew how much it meant to us to keep in touch and found me online.
It was so nice to hear from her, but it was also a reminder that no matter how restrictive you are in privacy settings, people can still find you. With her, there were no safety concerns, so I feel comfortable connecting over social media and am thankful for the opportunity to see how our little boy is doing (he’s thriving!).
In general, it is good to keep your privacy settings on the more restrictive end of the spectrum. I do not put my address, phone number, or personal email on anything online. People who are not facebook friends with me can send message requests, but not friend requests. I make sure that I turn off settings that automatically share my location when I post.
In the past, I had to balance privacy with the ability to still connect with people over social media for work. While there are reasons you may need to have less restrictive settings on your social media, it’s just important to make sure you take measures to keep your family safe.
Foster parents aren’t the only ones using social media, and things can get more complicated when we are not the ones in control of what gets posted online. See Part II for a discussion on social media use and foster youth and Part III for a discussion of preventing others from sharing your children’s information online.