As well as ensuring they are in a safe, secure, loving environment, protecting your foster child’s online safety is a large part of caring for a child during a foster placement. In this modern age where technology is everywhere, continually expanding and providing new opportunities for communication at any time, this can pose its challenges to managing foster children, and ensuring they are safe.
Below we’ve listed the top dangers for foster children online, and tips for foster parents on how to prevent these risks from becoming a reality.
One of the biggest potential dangers of a foster child’s online safety is the risk of grooming. Grooming refers to when an adult creates an emotional connection with a child with unacceptable goals in mind. They will often resort to creating this connection by means of flattery, bribes, intimidation, using authoritative power or other methods. This sort of attention online can lead foster children into dangerous situations where they could feel trapped, scared, embarrassed or alone.
Tips: communicating is key. Your foster child needs to be educated on the dangers of online grooming, how to spot the signs that they are being groomed, and what they should do if they think they are. It’s also important to keep open the lines of communication about their day-to-day – including any family issues, problems at school, etc – as these are the sort of problems predators use to find a way into their personal lives. Learn more about grooming and how to identify it now.
Unfortunately, one of the most common forms of child bullying comes in the form of cyber bullying. Without the understanding of how to keep their online space personal and private, your foster child may be subjected to online bullying that they can’t escape from – and this can often be an extension of offline bullying in a peer group.
Tips: if you believe your foster child is being bullied online, the first port of call is to speak to your foster child about it, and involve their social worker. You should raise your concerns with your own supervising social worker, and ensure your child knows that they are not online in their situation. If the bullying is occurring as a by-product from school, or a social environment, it might also be useful to speak to an authoritative adult. You should also educate your child on privacy settings of social media platforms – for example, making their profile private, and unfollowing/blocking anyone who is bullying them online, or restricting what is visible.
Without proper education in handling themselves online, your foster children could accidentally run into security issues, for example, identify theft, using unsecure passwords and keeping profiles public, which leads to an invasion of privacy. This could also come in the form of phishing – which is when a cyber security professional uses email predominantly, or another communication platform, to try and trick the recipient into clicking on links. These are often spam links – which could then lead to many complications, such as viruses on your software.
Tips: inform your foster child about the risks of phishing scams by showing them how they can check if an email address is legitimate, and educate them on ensuring they are not revealing personal information on any sites.
As is the case with many celebrities, public figures or any person of interest, the history of your social media platforms can be sometimes thoroughly investigated later in life. That’s where lies the problem with children using the internet from a young age, and not understanding what is appropriate to post, and what’s not. For example, an offensive post (e.g., racist, sexist, homophobic) may not be fully understood at a young age but, once published, could come back to haunt them in later life.
Tips: ensure your foster child knows that whatever they post on the internet cannot be undone – so they need to be extremely mindful about what they are putting out there, whether that be a home address for security purposes, or an offensive post. It’s also wise to encourage them not to partake in cyber bullying themselves at the emotional harm of another person, or online trolling.
If you’re fostering teenagers, it might be more likely that they are curious about what can be found on the internet, and exposing themselves to content which is inappropriate and shouldn’t be viewed. This could include pornography, extreme violence or any other forms of content which is deemed as unacceptable for a child to view.
Tips: you can set up child protection software on your computer which means you have more control of the sites that they are looking at. Keeping your computer/laptop in a communal area of the house would also likely eliminate the possibility of them actively seeking any inappropriate content.
Managing the relationship between your foster child and their biological family can be challenging – but that can be made especially tricky when social media comes into play, as it then becomes very easy for either person to reach out. A child’s care plan outlines the level of contact that should be maintained between a foster child and their birth family, so having technology involved can often disrupt that.
Tips: manage this carefully with your supervising social worker, and the child’s social worker. The child’s care plan is set in place for a reason – so it’s important the level of contact is maintained throughout the placement. If this is not being met by the biological family, this could affect their ability for reunification in some instances – but the foster child also needs to know what is an appropriate level of contact, and what is not.
For more information on technology and internet safety for foster children, contact a member of our helpful team for advice and support.
If you’ve got any questions or would like to find out more about fostering with Capstone, fill out the form below.
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