Dangers of Social Media

For children in the early 21st century, technology surrounds children.  Ipods, video games, and cell phones are practically inescapable for
children.  Along with this is social networking, which for many children is a daily part of their routine.  Indeed, social network sites, such as
Facebook, MySpace, and  Twitter, to name a few, are a part of everyday life for children around the globe.  Social Networking opens up
the world to children, as they are able to stay connected to friends and family members from all over.  For foster children, it can very much
be a benefit as they stay in touch with birth parents and biological family members.  Yet, at the same time, there are dangers and risks
involved for not only foster children, but for the foster parents, as well.

Social networking is certainly here to stay, as it shows no sign of either being a fad or slowing down.  To be sure, for many children, it is
the main way of keeping in contact with their peers.  Not only can children communicate with friends living nearby, social networking allows
them to communicate with those friends living great distances away, friends made at summer camps, sporting events, and other
gatherings.  These sites permit the user to communicate instantly and without delay, allowing children to develop stronger social skills.  
Sites such as Facebook also allow children to express themselves on their own “homepage”, giving them an outlet to discuss ideas that
interest them, as well as be introduced to other interests from friends.

There are educational benefits, as well, for those children using social network sites.  Facebook, and other sites, allow children to discuss
school work together, after school hours.  Children social networking also develop stronger digital skills and competence, as they learn
how to post pictures and comments on the site, as well as navigate through the internet.  As schools become more and more digitally
reliant, these skills are necessary for a child’s classroom’s success.  Furthermore, as the jobs of the future become more technologically
based, these skills are essential for children when reaching adulthood and face the job market.

There are dangers, though, regarding children using social network sites.  For one, children can be introduced to a world of harmful sites
while using these sites.  Not only can a child easily come across a site that is not child friendly, links and click ads are also easily
accessible, as they are seemingly everywhere.  Along with this, internet predators continue to seek out young internet users, waiting to
prey upon unaware children.  Cyberbullying, or bullying through the use of the internet, is also a new problem among child social network
users.  Parents need to be aware of who their children associate with on social network sites, teach their children about the dangers of
posting personal information while networking, monitor their internet usage, and ensure that social networking profiles are set to private
and not public.

For those foster children who use social network, there are other concerns, as well as benefits.  As sites such as Facebook are relatively
new to society, the rules regarding foster children using social networks continue to change.  Certainly, it is rather a new phenomenon for
foster parents and child welfare agencies to consider. Many foster care agencies do not have rules in this area, yet this will surely change
soon.

Social networking sites open up a new way to communicate with birth parents and other biological family members.  Facebook  and other
networking sites allow foster children and birth parents to remain in day to day contact, and even allow both to communicate in real time,
or instant dialogue.  Pictures and photographs can be shared by both sides, as well.  Indeed, it allows the foster child the opportunity to
continue in a relationship that is important to him, allowing him to heal from the separation from his family.  Birth parents are able to use
social networking to help in their healing process, as well.  Along with this, day to day contact with the child, plus the benefit of seeing
pictures and posts on the child’s homepage, may possibly encourage the birth parent’s to work even harder on their caseload, in the
hopes of reunification with their loved one.

Birth parents and foster parents can also use social network sites to remain in contact.  Foster parents can give regular updates on the
child’s progress, including school behavior, and emotional and well being status.  Foster parents can also have the ability to contact birth
parents about any questions they might have regarding their foster child’s past.  Again, this type of communication might motivate the birth
parents as they work their caseload.

Social networking does present problems to foster children, though.  To begin with, some caseworkers may prefer that contact with birth
parents be limited.  Yet, with social networking, this can be most difficult, and almost impossible, for foster parents to monitor.  More and
more birth parents are contacting their foster children through social networking sites, many times against the wishes of foster parents and
the caseworker.  Birth parents are able to openly communicate with their child unsupervised, which can lead to false accusations as well
as false promises from the birth parent; accusations harmful to the foster parent along with false promises that might  damage the child
emotionally. “There is the chat component of Facebook,” one caseworker noted, “where a child and their parent could essentially have a
conversation that no one would be able to monitor unless they were sitting right next to the child, which is a grave concern.”

Case managers would have to be familiar with the birth parent's Facebook page before the foster child was to even access it.  Another
caseworker suggested that, “I am personally aware of inappropriate things that parents post on their Facebook pages that would not be
appropriate for their children to view.  Not only might there be inappropriate information and comments on there, there also might be
inappropriate photos and other harmful content that the children do not need to be exposed to.”

As social networking continues to grow, more incidents of birth parents spying, as well as stalking, not only their child, but also the foster
parents on these sites are increasing at alarming rates.  Birth parents are able to have immediate access to a foster parent’s information,
via a social network site.  Some foster parents have reported feeling threatened by birth parents via Facebook.  Thus these foster parents
have been more reluctant to work alongside the birth parents, harming the foster child and his emotional well being and healing, as a
result.

As noted earlier, it can be most challenging to stop a foster child from social networking.  Whether he is doing it in the foster home, at
school, through the use of a mobile device, or a friend’s computer, access is not difficult to come by for today’s child.  Therefore, foster
parents need to ensure that their foster child is safe from harm while using these sites.  Before a foster child even begins to use a social
network site, the foster parents need to ensure that the local child welfare agency permits use by foster children. One caseworker, who felt
uncomfortable with foster children using Facebook noted, “If a foster child should have a Facebook account, this should be monitored
very closely by the foster parents.”  

Like any parent, foster parents should teach the child the dangers of posting information on social networking pages.  As contact through
sites is instantaneous, foster children should be encouraged to allow significant time to pass before responding to posts and comments,
even from their birth parents.  Posting information on social networks can be rather tricky for foster children, as any information they post
becomes public, not only to their friends, but on a global level, as well.  Therefore, children under foster care supervision should never
post information about their birthdate, address, family members, or school information.  Some child welfare agencies permit foster children
from posting pictures online.  Those agencies that do allow the posting of pictures require that the caseworker give permission to do so
first.  Foster children, along with foster parents, are urged never to publish a picture with the child’s name on it, nor information stating that
the child is under foster care supervision.  Finally, foster parents should join the same social network site that their foster child belongs to,
as well as becoming their online friend.  This allows the foster parents to better monitor who the child has contact with, as well as what the
child is viewing.

Indeed, social networking is a whole new world for all involved in foster care; a world that can be both wonderful and dangerous at the
same time.  Much more information and research is needed before the social network explosion engulfs foster care.