Adolescents in foster care require guidelines for safe social media use

Sep 05, 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: New research explores how culture affects our conceptions of nature

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Vulnerable children fare well with relatives

Jan 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

Jul 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

Power can corrupt even the honest

11 hours ago

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust ...

Learning at 10 degrees north

12 hours ago

Secluded beaches, calypso music and the entertaining carnival are often what come to mind when thinking of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. But Dal Earth Sciences students might first consider Trinidad's ...

How to find the knowns and unknowns in any research

13 hours ago

Have you ever felt overloaded by information? Ever wondered how to make sense of claims and counter-claims about a topic? With so much information out there on many different issues, how is a person new to ...

Minorities energize US consumer market, according to report

13 hours ago

The buying power of minority groups in the U.S. has reached new heights and continues to outpace cumulative inflation, according to the latest Multicultural Economy Report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rhonda_sciortino
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.