Finding family in the internet age: Boom or bust?


Lynne Melcombe
Focus on Adoption magazine

The Internet is everywhere. Toddlers can play games on it, and schools have made it an integral aspect of computer literacy. there is a growing need to improve child, youth, and parental literacy about social networking, and nowhere is this truer than in the adoption community. On one hand, social networking sites can be a boon to adoption workers seeking family members for waiting children. Yet, many members of the adoption constellation — particularly teens and their families — are experiencing ramifications of re-opening contact in an unmanaged way.

To address this, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) has published two new guides: Facing Up to Facebook: A Survival Guide for Adoptive Families and Social Networking and Contact: How Social Workers can Help Adoptive Families.

In a caring yet dispassionate writing style, author Eileen Fursland:

  • Offers a plain-language glossary of social networking jargon.
  • Reviews how normal developmental tasks can manifest in adopted children.
  • Discusses why normal developmental stages an lead adopted children into secretive online searches.
  • Outlines some of the trauma that can befall children who find their birth families very quickly online, and without the usual safeguards.
  • Talks about why such unplanned contact can be unsettling for and unwanted by birth families, too.
  • Delves into the Internet dangers to which adopted children, especially those with attachment issues, can be particularly vulnerable.

More importantly, Fursland provides suggestions to help parents guide their children out of the tangled web that Internet contact can lead them into, and outlines some of the things parents can do to minimize the risk to their children from the moment they bring them home (see sidebar).

Social networking can be a powerful tool to help adopted children reconnect with birth families. But, as is often the case, the law and public policy have not yet caught up with technology. Until it does, it falls to parents to understand the ramifications of unmediated contact and protect their children.

Sources: Facing Up to Facebook: A Survival Guide for Adoptive Families and Social Networking and Contact: How Social Workers can Help Adoptive Families are available in the AFABC library.

Social networking do’s and don’ts for adoptive families

1. Don’t make the Internet off limits. The Internet is at school, the library, at friends’ houses, on mobile phones, so too many restrictions will more likely lead to secrecy than safety.

2. Do provide children with information. Knowing about their birth families often staves off their desire to meet family members until they’re older and more emotionally prepared.

3. Do tell the truth, even if it will hurt. It’s better that children hear hurtful information from you in managed circumstances than via Facebook.

4. Do guard personal information, like the child’s original surname, closely. It can only take minutes for an angry parent ,who lost their child involuntarily, to track your child down through Facebook.

5. Don’t post photos of your child on Facebook. Ask others not to post photos with your child in them. Don’t allow your child to be tagged in photos. Consider how school photos will be used.

6. If you are at the beginning of an open adoption, do consider restricting birth parents to annual access through photos in the adoption worker’s office. You can also provide drawings or footprints as keepsakes.

7. Do watch for behavioural changes. All teens have mood swings, but in the Facebook era, one reason for an adopted teen’s moodiness can be that s/he has contacted birth family and it’s not going well.

8. Do report problems with a social networking site to their head office rather than through their regular complaints channels. These sites tend to be unaware of their potential impact on adoptive children and families. Frontline workers simply follow rules. If you want results, be prepared to go up the ladder.