A network of adoptive families, birth families, and adoption professionals which exists to improve the lives of children and others touched by adoption through support and education. UFA is actively engaged in community outreach and advocacy to raise awareness of adoption as a loving option.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Foster Care and Social Media

Fostering Hope: A Foster Care Column 

While it may be almost impossible to fully protect foster children from the dangers online, there are a number of strategies that foster parents can implement in order to better protect their foster child from these threats. As many foster children have access to computer technology at a young age, it is important to set up rules and expectations early. Foster parents of elementary children need to set clear rules for the young users. It is important that these foster parents limit time on the computer for their young foster children. It is especially important for foster parents to ensure that any personal information of their foster children is not posted online. With this in mind, it is recommended that children in elementary school do not have a social network address, as they are simply too young.

image by imagerymajestic

Foster parents must insist that their foster children keep all personal information safe and not post online. As birth parents and family members can easily locate and track their child through a social network site, foster parents can aid their foster child by creating a false name and identity, or pseudonym, for the child as he is online using sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites. Furthermore, foster parents should have access to the child’s Social Network page password, as well as the password for any email addresses, thus giving them access to all information and messages posted and received.

As many foster children long to be accepted and are simply looking for a place to “fit in,” they can easily be acceptable to online hoaxes, as well as cyber predators. Sadly, many foster children fall victim to online sexual predators. Therefore, it is imperative that foster parents teach their foster children not to be gullible while “surfing the net.” Foster parents need to warn their child never to meet a person they have met online in any face to face encounter, and that they should report to their foster parents anyone who has made such a request. Along with this, foster parents need to watch what their foster children are accessing online.

image by photostock

As mentioned previously, birth parents are finding their children and gaining unsupervised contact with their child. Reports of these occurring are growing at a fast rate. With today’s technology, people can be tracked from photos posted online by using easily accessible technology. With very little effort, the location of a person in a person can be deciphered and the person can be tracked down using other forms of technology. Therefore, it is vital that foster children never have a picture of them online, in any avenue, as each picture posted will become part of a digitalized global village, for all to see, and for all to use to determine the location of the child. This includes warning the child about “tagging” himself in a photo that someone else may have posted online. Foster parents must make certain that locations such as where the foster child goes to school, church, or any other location are not posted. If a child belongs to a sports team or social group, these also should not be identified online. Birthdates, phone numbers, addresses, or any other information that can be used to identify the location of the foster child should also not be posted online, either.

Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 30 children come through their home.  Dr. DeGarmo wrote his dissertation on fostering, entitled Responding to the Needs of Foster Children in Rural Schools.  He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic, and informative presentations.  Dr. DeGarmo is the author of the highly inspirational and bestselling book FosteringLove: One Foster Parent’s StoryHe also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both here in the United States, and overseas.  Dr. DeGarmo can be contacted via email, his Facebook page, or at his website.

1 comment:

  1. The real answer to this problem is to educate the foster child on their real life story. Do not water it down, or rose it up much. They need to know the uncensored truth about the real reasons that caused them to be placed in foster care or put up for adoption by the time they are 11, if not earlier. They also need to know which birth family members are safe to contact and which are not.

    I also wanted to say that the point you make about birth family making contact is very real. There have been foster care and adopted children as young as 11 that have made contact with birth parents or siblings via social media sites such as Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, Xanga, and others. Once they have made contact online, they can easily share their addresses, phone numbers, and other information because internet contact is not censored or monitored by child protective services.

    Moreover, these sites are not parties to the original foster care or adoption placing agreements, are privately owned, and are not subject to the same privacy laws. Once this has happened, the child now has an "open adoption" because of how hard this can be to reverse, especially if the shared information enters a child's long term memory, gets written down, or stored in a file or smartphone.

    With this information, and sites like Mapquest, the child would have enough information to visit a birth family member and child protective services would have no record that the visit occurred, nor could they stop it.

    I don't think forced anonymity is the solution to this problem. Instead, foster care and adoption agencies are going to have to adopt a model of "least restrictive environment" when it comes to contact, in which contact with low risk members of their birth families is not severed at the time of adoption / foster care, and the social workers find safe ways to accommodate the level of contact the child wants during their childhood with former family members by finding a safe way to assure contact. They also need to understand when parental rights get terminated in extreme cases of abuse, etc, child protective services and adoption agencies ability to control contact may diminish as the foster care or adopted child's level of technical skills and vocabulary increase. It should be presumed that the average middle school or high school students have the ability to search and find birth relatives online, and that their technical knowledge is far closer to an adult level than that of an infant.

    Agreements that cut off contact till age 18 should not be made anymore, according to Evan B Donaldson Adoption Institutes publication "Untangling the Web".


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