Social media and adoption – what social workers need to know

    Through social media sites, it is much easier for adoptive children and birth families to make contact

    social media
    A conversation Photo: flickr/ Khalid Albaih

    The impact of social networking on adoption is considered in a guide for Community Care Inform Children, first written by Eileen Fursland and recently updated by Julia Feast and Elaine Dibben from CoramBAAF. The guide covers key legislation and research, issues to be aware of and practical advice for adoption social workers. These are some brief tips from the guide; Inform Children subscribers can read the full guide and access the adoption knowledge and practice hub.

    Social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have altered the world in a myriad of ways, both positive and negative. Adoption is one area where social networking can have a huge affect, by making it much easier for adopted children and birth family to make contact, sometimes bypassing all safeguarding processes.

    Contact agreements

    In many adoptions, it’s seen to be in the best interests of the child to have occasional direct or in direct contact with birth relatives, such as through an annual ‘letterbox’ letter with a birth parent. This is agreed with adopters before the adoption order.

    Contact agreements are voluntary, but social workers should think explicitly about addressing the issue of social networking in the agreement. This ensures that birth parents understand there could be consequences to them making an approach to their child. It also helps them to be aware of the need to seek support if they receive an approach from the child or young person directly.


    It is natural for adopted children and young people to be curious about their birth families, and this curiousity often deepens when they reach adolescence. If an adopted young person expresses a wish to find out more information or to meet their birth parents, the adoptive parents need to talk this through with them, showing that they understand and accept the young person’s need to know. They can say they will support them in finding out more through the “proper channels”.

    The support of an experienced adoption social worker can be enormously helpful in this situation. They can explain the best way of re-establishing contact, and try and ensure the child or young person has a good understanding of the complexities of making contact and where it can lead. They can also help the young person understand the risks and drawbacks of using the internet to make a direct approach.

    Unmediated and unplanned contact

    When adoptive parents find out about secret contact between the young person and their birth family, they are usually shocked, and may feel hurt, angry and betrayed. They are often anxious about the effect on their child’s wellbeing.

    Adoption social workers – depending on their role and their agency’s role – many need to talk to adopted young people, their birth relatives and adoptive parents to try and support the various parties involved, help them agree a way forward and manage some very complex and painful situations.

    Read more

    Preventing adoption breakdown – what social workers need to know
    Fully preparing the child and being aware of issues like post-adoption depression can be key in stopping adoption disruption.

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    2 Responses to Social media and adoption – what social workers need to know

    1. Lee May 11, 2017 at 6:20 am #

      A very important practice guide thank you at com care and the authors

    2. Stephen May 26, 2017 at 9:42 am #

      Here are my thoughts:

      1) Foster and Adopted children need to know their life story. As they get older, it is important for them to know the sadder elements and the real reasons they were taken away or separated from their birth parents. It is imporant for them to know the problems their parents faced and that this is often not their fault.

      2) Don’t accept the fact there is 100% anonymity or secrecy online. It is not possible to contractually guarantee this as technologies and sites change with time. Remeber that social media sites and other internet sites are not subject to the same privacy rules as adoption agencies, foster care agencies or child protective services.

      3) Even if an adoption or foster care file is sealed, some children still remember identifying information (such as their parents names) about their birth relatives or previous family members from when they were younger. All it make take for the child who remembers to find and contact their parents may be a simple search of Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook!

      4) Even if a child’s name is changed, a search of a know. Buddies friends list and looking and matching their picture may be enough to find their new name. Photo regonition searches may also lead to revealing this as well.

      5) Remember internet contact is instant and unscripted. You will not have a confidential intermediary, a social worker scripting the conversation, or counseling if you choose to use the internet or social media to reunite.

      6) Know what options you have if internet contact becomes unwanted or abusive. These include blocking the person online, changing your phone number or email address, deleting your social media account, contacting post adoption support, getting a restraining order, calling the police, moving, and others. Please note that any identifying information that has already been shared, entered a persons long term memory, or is stored offline or in private cloud storage cannot be erased. Each of these options restores a different level of privacy, but chances are you will not be able to get full secret surname anonymity back with any of them. Plus many of these will require the youth to make the decision to do or not.

      7) If a youth decides to meet a birth relative in person before they are 18, encourage them to do research and see if the person is safe to meet or not. Meeting in a public place when it is busy with supervision is the safest way to meet if you don’t know. For low risk relatives that are very nice to the child, coming to Each other’s home could be safe. Adoptive parents need to guide in helping the youth make good decisions.

      8) Adoptive parents need to take an active role and offer to search with the child to build a stronger bond to prevent breakdowns.

      9) False death stories should not be told to a child’s brothers and sisters to hide the truth that the siblings were separated by the child welfare system and or adopted into other families. Instead the actual truth should be told and when possible the siblings given each other’s contact info when possible and safe to do so.

      10) Older adopted children should be given more say into contact and options over than letterbox if desired if they want to say in touch with lower risk birth relatives.

      11) Each case of a young person making contact with birth relatives before 18 should be handled on a case by case basis. If the relative is high risk, social worker intervention or restraining orders may be nessecary. If on the other hand it is a low risk relative and the relationship is turning out positive for the adopted child, the best option may be to let the non-letterbox method of contact continue and allow the child normal visitation. Social workers and adoptive parents need to consider the years in between if anything changed with the relative.

      12) Social workers should offer to set up supervised visitation when a youth wants to visit their parent and it is a high risk situation. This might be better than the youth doing it alone.

      13) Adoption agencies should be promoting open adoptions over closed ones as the norm. Even if one is closed doesn’t mean a young person can’t open it with an online search.

      14) Parents should put the computers in a public place in the home, and supervise children online especially younger children.

      15) Realize that children may access the internet in places outside the home and search in secret including at schools, libraries, coffee shops, stores, cyber cafes, on smart phones, and others. Sometimes an adult or a social worker might not find out a child has made contact with birth relatives till after it happens. In these cases offer to help, not panic or punish and encourage dialog about how it is going for the child.