Written by Washington Foster Team
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. TikTok. Snapchat. The list goes on. It seems like there’s a new social networking app available for download every week. Social media use is now a way of life, especially for young children and teens.
Even though social media can be a powerful tool and a great way to connect and socialize with others, navigating safety and privacy concerns can be challenging for all parents and children. And it becomes even more complicated when you’re a foster parent caring for someone else’s child.
Whether you’re currently fostering a child or are preparing to become a foster parent, here are a few resources and considerations regarding social media use that will help you guide your foster child to safe and healthy online behavior.
Social Media Policies For Caregivers
First things first: know what you as a foster parent can and can’t share about your family life. Social media hasn’t just permeated our children’s lives. You may also be used to posting anything you want to share on social media. But those daily snapshots of your foster child’s antics must be kept a little more private.
According to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families, foster parents using social media must not:
- Mention their foster child’s name.
- Indicate in any way that the child is in the foster care system.
- Share any information related to the child’s case or family.
Unidentified photos may or may not be deemed safe to share, depending on the child’s specific situation. Sometimes, you’ll see foster parents post photos of the children in their care but always with hearts or other cleverly positioned emojis over their faces to hide the child’s identity. This may be OK, but it’s always important to err on the side of safety and ask your caseworker first.
Helping Youth Use Social Media Safely
When it comes to your foster child’s social media use, you may be tempted to forgo social media entirely in your household to make things simple. But children have the right to some form of uncensored access to their family and friends. And given the ease and prevalence of virtual communication, these often include email and social networking.
Plus, banning social media to protect the children in your care is not only likely impermissible and impractical in today’s society; it can also backfire. Given how prevalent social media use is among youth and teens, staying virtually connected can provide foster children with a sense of normalcy — something they desperately need. Not having that outlet can isolate them and make it harder for them to fit in.
So, how do you help keep them safe? Here are a few tips from the Child Welfare Information Gateway from the Children’s Bureau:
Communication is everything.
Discuss social media use with both your caseworker and foster child. Understand any specific safety concerns, such as whether there have been issues in the past connected to social media, and learn why social media is important to your foster child.
Set rules and turn on privacy settings.
Will you only allow social media for a few hours each day? Only certain sites? Many social media platforms offer kid-friendly privacy settings that limit what kids can and can’t see online. While these rules will vary by age, maturity, and situation, it’s critical that you set clear boundaries early and ensure everyone, from the caseworker and child to the child’s family, are aligned.
Monitor use and stay up to date on which social media platforms are popular.
From YouTube to TikTok to online gaming, your foster child will inevitably stay on top of the newest social media trends. Make sure you do too. Take the time to learn about and monitor how they are using social media, even if you can’t monitor every minute of their use.
Social media, when used properly, can be an invaluable resource for both the foster parent and the foster child. Even so, navigating safety and privacy concerns, especially when impressionable children are involved, can be challenging — for any parent. General resources, such as those provided by the nonprofit Common Sense Media on social media and privacy and internet safety, may also prove helpful.
Drawing Support From Social Media
Social networking also provides caregivers and foster children a way to connect with other people who may be going through similar challenges. It may seem like you are in uncharted territory — indeed, no two situations are exactly alike — but there is a whole community both the foster parent and child can tap into that can provide comfort and support.
Many foster associations and agencies (including many of the child placing agencies that work with us at the Washington Association for Children and Families) operate pages and groups on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to share information and resources, including parenting tips and community events. Best of all, you can be as little or as highly involved as you’d like.
But remember that every child is unique. Each foster child will require a different approach. Use these tips and resources as a guide and inspiration, but then work with all the child’s caregivers to develop a social media plan tailored to you and your foster child’s specific situation.
Take the first step towards exploring whether foster parenting is right for you. Enroll in our new eight-part webinar course on foster parenting, which covers everything from how you become a licensed foster parent to the complexities and everyday joys you will encounter while parenting. Click here to register now.