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No photos of foster kids allowed on social media, Pitt DSS board decides

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Jan Elliott

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pitt County foster parents can no longer include foster children in their social media postings.

The county’s social services board on Tuesday unanimously approved a policy prohibiting families from posting images or narratives that describe identifying characteristics of foster children on social media.

Violating the policy, which goes in effect immediately, may result in licensure revocation, DSS Director Jan Elliott said. Social workers are notifying the 25 families who have foster children so they can review and sign the policy.

Social workers have been getting complaints that foster parents are posting images of children in their care on Facebook.

“We feel like it is really important to make it clear to our parents that we don’t want our children on Facebook,” Elliott said.

State law says foster children should not be identified in any way. Foster families are required to sign a confidentiality agreement, Elliott said. They also are advised against posting images or narratives about the children in their care, but there hasn’t been a state law specifically addressing social media.

The postings create problems because birth parents and other biological family members can figure out who is caring for the child. That can create a situation where birth/biological family members can reach out to children and their caregivers when social workers are trying to limit or prevent access, Elliott said.

Also, there are predators who target foster children and social media postings, she said.

Families have tried covering children’s faces with emojis or blurring their images but people are still recognizing them, Elliott said, so it is best to just prohibit the practice.

Elliott acknowledged it will create a balancing act for foster families.

“We want our children to be treated like other children in the home but these photos should be in the photo album,” she said.

Board chairwoman Melonie Bryan asked how social workers will enforce the rule since they can’t spend all their time monitoring social media.

Elliott said many social workers are Facebook friends with the foster families they work with, and see postings. Staff also receives complaints.

They have also encountered situations where the foster families’ Facebook postings have been raised in court proceedings, Elliott said.

Board member Becky Starkey asked why such a posting would be relevant to a court proceeding. Elliott said social media postings are becoming prevalent in family court proceedings. Elliott was concerned providing more details could violate confidentiality.

Starkey also asked what happens in situations where a foster child might be part of a group family picture where individuals aren’t identified.

Elliott said it may be difficult for families but the policy has to be to remove the photo from social media.

Board member Shelia Bunch agreed the policy is needed because photos could create strife. A parent may be unhappy a child is enjoying time with the foster family, she said.

Starkey and Bryan worried the policy could further alienate children from their foster families because they aren’t being treated the same. Starkey said families may feel they can’t take foster children anywhere.

A question was raised about whether the policy would it prevent foster children from posting photos of themselves with their foster families.

“I am policing the parents,” Elliott said. The policy won’t apply to the children.

There also was discussion about whether the social media policy should stand alone or be incorporated into the existing confidentiality policy. Tammy Lewis, social work program administrator, said it should be a separate policy so foster parents clearly understand the limitation.

The new policy also is aligned with the policy in place for Pitt County foster children who are in group care and attend school, Elliott said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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