Protecting foster children in the digital age is something that every foster carer must do in order to keep their foster child safe and happy. However, some foster carers are not even aware of the dangers awaiting their foster children online themselves. Using Social Media does pose a potential threat to foster children, however when used responsibly it can be a great tool for them to express themselves and make friends. In order to allow your foster child to use Social Media, you must educate, communicate and stick to your rules.
In order to educate and keep you foster child safe, you must first become social media savvy yourself. Each platform has a lot of ‘Help’ sections which can explain how to use the platform. You should also find out what the foster agencies Social Media policies are so that you can abide by their rules. Blue Sky holds Fostering regular e-Safety training to help you keep your young person safe online.
Some of the issues you may want to educate you foster child on are:
- Privacy settings: Each Social Media platform will have its own privacy settings. Teach your foster child how to set up their profile so that only their friends can see what they are posting or even search for them on the platform.
- The reach of Social Media: Whatever your foster child posts on Social Media could potentially be shared to millions of other people. Make sure your foster child is aware of this before they post anything that they wouldn’t want other people to see. They should never post inappropriate pictures, information about their location or rude and insulting messages to others.
- Online stranger danger: Most children are taught about ‘stranger danger’ from a young age, but Social Media brings a whole new element to this. Warn them not to accept friend requests from people they do not know and not to reply to messages from people they do not know.
- Contacting family members: Some foster children may have family members who they are not allowed contact with. Make sure your foster child is aware of this and that they tell you if that person does try to contact them.
By allowing your foster child to use Social Media, you are opening the gates to communicate with each other. If you try to ban them from using Social Media, chances are that they will use it anyway and hide it from you. By allowing them to use it, you can have conversations with them about any issues they may be having and the rules they need to follow. Some of the things you should communicate about are as follows:
- Cyber Bullying: Encourage your foster child to tell you if anyone is bullying them online. This can be extremely distressing for them and if you keep an open line of communication about it you can stop it much quicker.
- Birth family contact: Talk to your fostering agency and your child’s social worker on how best to manage this on social media.
- Strangers: Unfortunately, there are some predatory people online. Make sure your foster child communicates to you when a stranger approaches them online.
- The rules: Lay down your own set of Social Media rules, such as when they can use it and what they should do if contacted by strangers or if they are being bullied. You should also stress the importance of the foster child not bullying other people online too.
There are a few ways that you can keep the line of communication open with your foster child regarding Social Media. They are as follows:
- Ask questions: Every now and then, ask them if they are having any problems online. Get the conversation started and show an honest interest. You don’t want to come across as nosey and overbearing but a friendly interest is natural.
- Add them: They may not choose to accept your friendship request, but it doesn’t hurt to try! This shouldn’t be done just to check up on them but because you want to be friends with them and share with them online. If they accept your friendship request you will be able to see what they are doing online and who they are friends with.
- Keep your computer in a shared space: Keeping your computer in a communal room means you can keep an eye on their activity and ask them about what they are doing.
Stick to Your Rules
If you are choosing to let your foster child use Social Media, you’re going to need to stick to any rules you have given them to follow. It is important that you apply these rules to ensure their safety online. To be able to apply your rules, you will need to use a combination of educating, communicating and the following:
- Lay down the rules: You need to clearly identify the rules with your foster child so that there is no excuse for them to be broken. Writing the rules down in a clearly displayed area near the computer may be a good way to do this.
- Check they are sticking to the rules: This will involve communication and trust. You may also want to ask if you can check their account while they are using it just to make sure they are staying safe, but don’t be too intrusive, they still need some level of privacy.
- Take away their Social Media privileges if they break the rules: You’ll have to be strong. Applying these rules will mean giving punishments if they are broken. You can ban them from using Social Media for a specific period of time depending on the extent of their rule break just as you would with your own child.
- Lead by example: If you are going to apply these rules, you are going to have to stick to them yourself.
By using this combination of educating, communicating and sticking to your rules, you stand a much higher chance of keeping a young person safe online.
The NSPCC has a really useful Share Aware campaign which is for all parents who are worried about children keeping safe online: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/fighting-for-childhood/news-opinion/share-aware-campaign-launches/