In the age of social media, it’s normal for parents to share and sometimes overshare about our lives and the lives of our children. Many parents post everything from happy selfies with the kids to posting about how much our kids like certain sports or activities.
In PRIDE Training you learn that being a foster parent means parenting foster children differently than you parent your own children. For most parents, that means disciplining differently. However, it is just as important to guard information about foster children as it is to discipline according to state standards.
In the Foster Parent Handbook it states that it is the foster parents responsibility to, “Maintain absolute confidentiality of private information about each foster child and the birth/legal family.”
The Department of Children and Family Services has released this statement regarding social media,
“DCFS is announcing that foster parents posting pictures of children placed in their foster home as well as any information about the circumstances of the child in foster care is prohibited. Foster parents will maintain absolute confidentiality of private information about children in their care and their birth/legal family. It is understood that the foster family interacts with others. Nevertheless, information about the child’s history, or information which the child wishes to keep private must not be discussed with others. Policies, activities, and programs of the Department of Human Services are discussed publicly in generalizations only.
In regards to older youth who have a Facebook page or other social media account and choose to post “selfies” or other information, foster parents must monitor to some extent that use of social media. Just as you would with your own children, nieces, nephews, godchildren, etc., please assess how appropriate and safe a particular posting may be — not only for the youth but your family as well. DCFS appreciates your assistance in ensuring the safety of children in an environment that has many risk factors to be considered. If you would like to provide any suggestions in regards to the development of the policy or other guidance, please email Mona.Davis@dhs.arkansas.gov or Christin.Harper@dhs.arkansas.gov.”
There has not been an official policy established other than, “Zero Social Media”. DCFS Workers seem to agree that this means:
- No pictures online PERIOD. No covering their faces with Emoticons or blurs, no back of their head pics. NOTHING that could be identifiable.
- No using children’s names. This includes nicknames they may have like, “My little redhead,” or “baby boy,” or “Princess M,” etc…
- No sharing identifiable information. Phrases like, “My little redhead loves learning about dinosaurs — he’s obsessed,” should not be shared. Ages of children, hair color, favorite hobbies, etc…need to be kept offline.
- No sharing even vague information about bio families or your opinions about them.
Why is this a big deal?
In a county where there’s 100 foster kids and everyone seems to be connected someone may be able to identify your foster child by the subtle things you say. For example, say Janet just lost her 7 year old daughter and 3 year old son. Janet is your husband’s third cousin twice removed. Nancy, a woman you used to work with is a foster mom. You’ve not stayed in touch other than through Facebook. About a week after Janet’s kids get taken, Nancy starts posting about her new “littles” on Facebook. She starts talking about how “Princess Pea” is struggling with her multiplication tables and her “Little Conductor” is working really hard on potty training. You don’t think anything about it until Nancy starts asking for Frozen paraphernalia because that’s what Princess Pea likes and her birthday is in a few weeks.
That’s when it clicks. You don’t know for sure, but chances are Nancy has Janet’s kids. Do you keep it to yourself? Tell your husband in confidence? Ask Nancy about it? Eventually Janet may figure it out or hear it through the family grapevine. That could put the children or Nancy in a bad position.
Nancy didn’t post their names, birthdate or even ages, but between posting about multiplication and Frozen and an upcoming birthday it was easy to figure out who the little girl was.
DCFS can (and will) close homes over breaches of confidentiality. It is up to the individual case worker to make that recommendation, but accidentally leaking information that could be considered confidential is not worth getting your home closed.
Despite the fact that your foster children feel like family, your safest course of action is to keep your foster children non-existent on social media. That way no one can speculate and you don’t have to defend what you say. In the future DCFS may come up with a specific policy but until then it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you can’t help yourself and want to continue posting ambiguous information about your fosters, ask your case worker for specific guidelines. Don’t base your actions off of the actions of another foster parent — go straight to the source.