Adolescents in foster care require guidelines for safe social media use

September 5, 2012

About 73 percent of online American teens use social networking sites, such as Facebook, to share photos, interests and experiences with others, according to Pew Research Center. For youths in the foster care system, sharing information online presents additional safety and privacy issues. A University of Missouri researcher recommends that child welfare agencies develop policies to guide how adolescents in foster care use social media.

Dale Fitch, an assistant professor in the MU School of Social Work, says agencies usually advocate restricting how youths in the foster system use social media in order to avoid potential liabilities that could result in lawsuits. However, like other teens who ignore adults' instructions concerning information disclosure online, teens in foster care turn to the Internet to express their identities and share their stories. Social media is a positive tool that helps in foster care connect with society, but the lack of guidelines leaves them at risk for cyber-bullying, unintentional disclosure of identifying information and personal harm, Fitch said.

"Foster parents and caseworkers might tell teens not to use Facebook, but they're using it anyway, which opens them up to ," Fitch said. "They need to be able to share instances of unwanted social media contact with their guardians, and they might not reveal information if they've been told not to use Facebook."

Extensive policies regulate how records of youths in the foster system are shared with others such as foster parents, school personnel, and caseworkers, so encouraging teens in foster care to use the Internet allows them a sense of privacy and control over their own information, Fitch said.

"Although adolescents in foster care are very much aware of their own safety issues and are very protective of their foster families and biological siblings, they may not know the implications of sharing information online," Fitch said. "Working with them to safely use social media is a huge step."

Additionally, allowing youths in foster care to use social media could give their caretakers insight into the youths' lives they might not have otherwise, which could help adults identify development issues, Fitch said.

"If adolescents have few friends on , foster parents need to find out whether they have other, hidden online profiles or if they're having problems making friends," Fitch said. "Adults could learn a lot more about what's going on in the teens' lives and what they're thinking about. Those conversations happen on a limited basis now."

Fitch used a tool called Critical Systems Heuristics to create a framework child welfare agencies can use to develop privacy guidelines to ensure the safe use of social media. He says youths in the foster system should be included in the policy-making process in addition to child welfare workers, foster parents or guardians, juvenile officers and judges.

The paper, "Youth in and Social Media: A Framework for Developing Privacy Guidelines," was published in the Journal of Technology in Human Services. The School of Social Work is part of the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Explore further: Study looks at how mental health care affects outcomes for foster children

Related Stories

Vulnerable children fare well with relatives

January 21, 2009

Placing vulnerable children with relatives is a viable option, a new study by Cochrane Researchers suggests. In view of several recent high profile child abuse cases, the study may have important policy implications.

Just like teens, parents get personal on Facebook

July 11, 2011

They may not dress like Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez, but parents are a whole lot like their teenagers when it comes to their behaviour on Facebook. That's the finding of a new study by University of Guelph researchers.

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 05, 2012
I'm so glad to see this article. The need for kids who have been abandoned and abused to connect and belong is more important than most people think. So, they are going to use social networking whether they're "allowed" to or not. The best thing we can do is to help them to use it responsibly by helping them understand the consequences of irresponsible online behavior.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.