If you are a part of a Facebook adoption support group, you may have seen them, or you may have even written them: posts by foster parents written with information specific to the foster child in their care, possibly even including information about the child’s birth parents and social workers.
Foster care can be hard, fraught with adjustment issues for both the child and the foster parents. I have followed many of these posts myself, crying, as I have read of some of the unspeakable circumstances these children were once made to bear, that no child should. I have prayed as I read about some of the struggles foster parents have had as they try to help these children they are caring for in their homes, and I have cheered when children that have not known a forever home find one. I have no doubt these posts are written out of a need for support or guidance and likely out of frustration with the system, and sometimes even out of joy, in the little victories of each day with their foster child, but as I read them I cannot help but wonder if this is a safe, ethical, or even a legal thing to do.
In my search for answers– answers for those who want help, support, and guidance, for those who I know want to do right, and of course for the safety of the foster children involved– I decided to talk to someone who has lived the life of a foster parent for the last 12 years. I contacted Dr. John DeGarmo, foster parent, educator, author, and speaker. DeGarmo and his wife have fostered more than 40 children, and adopted two, which lead him to become an expert in the field and author of a number of books relating to foster care, including his latest, A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story, a children’s book to help younger kids who are entering placement.
I wondered if he himself posted things directly in social media about his foster children, and the answer was no. Not even when he recently wanted to share a Christmas picture of the nine children living in his home with his friends and family members. Why not? According to DeGarmo, it is because he not only recognizes the dangers involved, but also the laws that preclude it.
“I do not share these pictures, or any information about them,” DeGarmo said. “To be sure, there are wonderful foster care support groups through Facebook and other social media sites, and I belong to many of them. It’s important to remember, though, that it is most unwise, and even against many state regulations and policies to share any information about the children, even by indicating them with an initial, because they can be tracked down. Let us remember that there are sexual predators who roam through social media sites, specifically looking for children in foster care, as these children are often the most vulnerable and weakest, and easiest to ensnare in their sexual traps. We also must remember that what goes online, stays online, FOREVER!”
While many posts we see from foster parents on social media do use an initial for the child’s name, the poster’s name is there, too. The groups posted in are often “closed,” but there is nothing to prevent someone who knows the family or the child from being a member of the group. In fact, a birthparent may even be a member, or find the foster family through their own social media page.
DeGarmo warns that social media sites make it quite easy for birth parents and other biological family to spy on foster parents. “Time and time again, when I host training seminars across the nation, I hear of stories of those foster parents who have been stalked by their child’s biological family members through social networking. For those foster parents who post all of their actions, movements, weekend plans, and vacation destinations through social network sites, birth parents have easy and ready access to this information. These biological family members are able to determine where the foster parents will be next, along with the foster child, and arrive at the same location.”
It is amazing what social media can do and the connections it creates, even unwanted ones. But whether it is social media, or chatting with a friend, DeGarmo stresses that before speaking to anyone, anywhere, about a child you’re caring for in your home to think about PRIVACY.
“It is simply not allowed, not permissible, and can place a child in danger,” DeGarmo said. So, in this world where we are so accustomed to just hitting that “post” button from our phone or laptop to social media – think twice for any child in your home, and if you are a foster parent, please know that for you, you may also be breaking laws and opening the door to problems you never dreamed of.
So what is a foster parent to do? You want to help the child you are fostering, but you may feel unprepared for the job, or just need some support from someone who has been there. Where do you go to get that, if not social media? DeGarmo suggests a good, healthy Foster Parent Association.
“Not only do foster parents understand one another better than the general public, they can appreciate what each has gone through, and can provide suggestions, help, and advice that applies directly to the situation- advice and help that others do not appreciate or understand. Fellow members have probably ‘been there, done that,’ and can offer advice based on their own experiences in the foster care system. An Association can also be a place where foster parents can relax, unwind, and even share frustrations and grievances without having to be worried about being judged or criticized by outside forces.”
For those of you who are foster parents, bless you! Part of the first year off my life was spent with a foster family and I will be eternally grateful to them. I hope you find the support you need and that you are able to do it in a safe and healthy way, for your sake, as well as the sake of the child you have opened your home and heart to.
For more foster care resources, please see: The National Foster Parent Association Website.
For more information about Dr. John DeGarmo.