Social media and adoption was a hot topic in the news last week. Here our Director of Service Delivery provides advice on protecting children's privacy and keeping them safe online.

Here at Adoption UK we are immersed in the production of this year’s Adoption Barometer. Our Barometer is the only comprehensive assessment of the lives of adoptive families across the UK and the policies that govern adoption. It explores families’ experiences throughout the adoption journey, from prospective adopters to those whose children are now young adults.

Thousands of you responded to this year’s survey and the Barometer is an endlessly rich source of adoption stories. But behind every story are real children and real families. Families who are hopeful, joyous, trying and tired.

One stand out story from the Barometer is the high frequency of data breaches that threaten the security of adoptive families. Maybe you, like me, know real people who have had their security breached within adoption. These data breaches can have a long-lasting impact and become a daily consideration. A data breach can result in people changing their names, moving house or potentially risk and disruption for families.  

It is my impression that these breaches never occur from malice or ill will. They are normally the result of systems and human error. This is not to minimize the level of impact, but to understand that the person who was accountable for the breach was almost certainly not trying to harm the child. 

There are many different players who can undermine a child’s safety and privacy. This can add to the accumulated risk for a child. 

Within adoption there are strong feelings and powerful voices. There are movements to “end forced adoption” and bids to identify people via social media in order to help people locate their birth children. This skirts the edges of the law and the risk of the birth family is not assessed.   

Equally, there are varying opinions amongst adoptive parents about how much they can or should identify their children on social media channels. This also skirts close to the law if the adoptive parents don’t currently hold parental responsibility. With such varying levels of risk to adoptive children, providing photos and information about children can inadvertently jeopardise the safety of the child. 

In addition, children themselves can undermine their own safety via their online presence. There are interesting philosophical points in this too; raising the questions for us as parents as to who owns a child’s image rights and to what extent are they able to take risks for themselves?  You can listen to the recent coverage on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. 

So, how can you protect children’s privacy and safety? Here are some tips.

  1. Check the legality of your actions
  2. Be vigilant about details
  3. Analyse the specific risks to your children
  4. Manage your social media presence carefully
  5. Ensure you have thorough knowledge of your child’s online activities
  6. Remember the lifelong nature of adoption in online activities
  7. Balance your child’s rights, your rights and your responsibilities to your child 

Adoption is meant to be a child-focused activity and is morally and legally justified by holding the child’s best interest as paramount. It is by holding ourselves to this standard professionally and personally that we protect our children.  

Author: Eleanor Haworth, Director of Service Delivery and safeguarding lead. 

Watch our webinar on making the internet a safer place for your child with Childnet International .