Adoption and the Social Network
Like it or not social networking is a big part of life nowadays. It's a great invention because it offers you a way of easily keeping in touch with people. I use it for keeping contact with friends and family around the world and maintaining links with other mums that I've met at toddler groups and out and about. It's also been useful for connecting me with people that I met at school and work many years ago. I often joke that Facebook is a way of keeping in touch with people without actually having to speak to them.
What are my concerns as an Adoptive Parent?
There is a ying to the yang, as there is with most things. There are many anxieties that parents share about social networking sites namely cyber bullying and being used as a platform for contacting and grooming young people by people whose intentions are not purely social.
For adoptive parents, and for parents who have family breakdowns, social networking sites have an added layer of concern. Unwelcome contact from birth families and the posting of photographs of the children on sites. This is something that has happened to us when Katie's Birth Mother put pictures of Katie on her Facebook site and also used a picture of Katie as her profile picture, after we had adopted her. Her privacy settings were set so that anyone could see those pictures so Katie was afforded no protection. Katie's Birth Mother has a lots of friends on Facebook. How many of them live near us and might recognise Katie in the street and pass that information back to her Birth Mother? What rights to anonymity does Katie have? What rights do both Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents have? This is a really difficult and emotional issue for everyone concerned. We felt quite powerless to react. If we contact Facebook administrators we reveal our identities. We contacted Social Services and asked for the pictures to be removed and have made it clear that we will not send any pictures of Katie, as part of our contact arrangements, if they are going to be put on Facebook. As Katie's legal parents we did not consent to those images being put on Facebook but do we have the legal power to give consent for images that were taken prior to us becoming Katie's parents? We want contact to work and be positive for everyone involved but not at the cost of Katie's safety. At that time I did not feel our Local Authority were really on top of the whole social networking issue although I know that this is now being discussed and examined.
A tiny confession.....
Obviously here I have to admit that I have looked up Katie's Birth Parents on Facebook and the Internet. Is that actually fair on them when that is not a two-way option? Fascination and information gathering was my motive however this is something that I no longer do out of respect for their privacy.
Contact and protection regarding social networking
I do not see contact as a necessary chore but actually hope that it will help Katie and her Birth Parents. I want Katie's Birth Parents to have a record of her life and achievements but not at the cost of Katie's safety or anonymity. Obviously I do not use Katie's real name here in my blog and ensure that I never post images of Katie's face here.
I genuinely feel for Katie's Birth Mother. I cannot even imagine how she feels about the fact that Katie has been adopted. It must be so difficult to reconcile yourself with and accept. Even though Katie is still very young we have said to her that she can have contact with her Birth Parents when she is older, if that is what they both want. I would never put Katie in a position of having to choose or even feel that she has to make contact behind our backs. I do have concerns about this being initiated via a social networking site though for several reasons:
1) There will be so many emotions involved for everyone involved in such a meeting. I feel that Katie and her Birth Parents would need proper support to manage the contact positively. Social Services Post Adoption Teams have the ability to put all the right professionals in place to help everyone involved in the contact.
2) If not managed properly then Katie might end up totally confused and overcome with emotions that she doesn't know how to handle. What path might that take her on?
3) Safety. I would protect my daughter to the ends of this earth and beyond. I don't want anything else to hurt her. I can only do that if I'm aware of what is happening in Katie's life (as much as any parent is ever able to do that).
4) I want Katie to know that I will support her throughout her life and that we totally accept that her Birth Parents and any siblings are part of that life.
What can we do?
I know how I felt when I saw those pictures of Katie on the Internet. I felt sick to my stomach and so worried about her safety. I have the highest settings on my Facebook account so that only certain people can see the images I post of Katie. All my friends and family know not to post pictures of Katie on their accounts. Many other people do not have such settings however so images of our children are widely available when friends and family also post pictures on their social networking sites. Many adopted children would be at real risk if their location was discovered. This is an issue more generally at pre-school and at group gatherings, such as parties. Parents freely take digital images at parties and put them on their social networking sites. How do I protect Katie from those images being widely available without ruining her fun or making her anxious?
In the future, when Katie is old enough to join the social networking revolution I think we will help her set up her account and security settings; be friends with her; but hold onto her password so that she can only use her account at home in a visible area, until she is old enough to take responsibility for the account herself. I hope that this will allow her to keep in contact with her friends and not be singled out as being different but maintain her safety whilst she takes her first steps into this world.
To help me prepare, I have today ordered the BAAF book "Facing up to Facebook" by Eileen Fursland (ISBN: 978 1 905664 98 6) in the hope that this publication might give me information and support on this issue. I will blog about this once I've read the book.