Foster care is truly a 24 seven-hour job. Technology has made it harder. Only a few years ago foster carers worried about youngsters staying out too late. Now they have, thanks to technology, to be concerned, even when a child is safe within the confines of the family home. Social media and its effects would have been unimaginable at the turn of the millennium. We will not know how children may have been affected in the long-term until this generation has grown up. The signs do not look good. Adults can be vulnerable to new technology which means children certainly can be.
The emergence of technology platforms and their potential to deliver a near limitless world of social media is as much of a change in human history to our discovery of fire. And it is as difficult to control. We can never know how many forest fires raged when our ancestors unwittingly lost control of the fire they created. Despite our technological arrogance, even the cleverest amongst us – and Mark Zuckerberg is certainly that – are experiencing the modern equivalent of such a loss of control. Facebook’s President, Mark Zuckerberg, was interviewed not that long ago about the harvesting of fifty million Facebook profiles for Cambridge Analytica. He was forced to admit that ten years ago, he could never, for a moment, have foreseen that Facebook would be on trial for enabling the manipulation of a United States presidential election. Certainly, this had the ring of truth about it as Zuckerberg had gone to ground as a result of the media storm that encircled him. It is interesting to imagine he’s feeling as he must have contemplated the fact he had opened a Pandora’s box.
We have subsequently learnt that Cambridge Analytica worked alongside Donald Trump’s election machine and that the millions of Facebook profiles were deployed to create a software programme able to predict and then influence voting intentions. Facebook has attempted, without much success, to strenuously deny such harvesting of personal information represented a data breach: the genie is visibly out of the bottle.
This has resulted in a growing backlash against social media. This is understandable. But what is interesting; to return to the example of the discovery of fire, our modern day ‘Techno God’ is as bewildered by the results of his discovery as we can imagine our ancestors were. But we should all of us be collectively concerned: if through the deployment of sophisticated algorithms swing voters can be targeted to decide who becomes president, true democracy has been reduced to ashes.
Our technological world now exists because we once tamed fire. Today we confront a new invention that clearly justifies extreme caution. It would, however, be a mistake to succumb to fear and paranoia. Social media is in many ways extremely positive – after all, it is all about communication, and what are we if not the ultimate species for communication. But we have to be extremely aware that platforms like Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp do pose a clear risk to young people. And, sadly, especially to those in care. Paedophiles have stalked the internet to have access to and then groom children. Fortunately, we have initiatives such as the Safer Internet Day. These serve to keep in mind the very real risks that unrestricted access to the online world can present to children and young people.Recent research from the University of East Anglia’s Centre for Research on the Child and Family has found that youngsters in care can benefit from the emotional, psychological and social support that social media networks offer. And these young people can be definitely helped by social media to maintain appropriate and healthy ‘birth family’ relationships – along with their friendships.
Dr Simon Hammond, a researcher in this field:
“Young people in care face harder, faster and steeper transitions into adulthood with fewer resources than their peers. Placement instability often leads to young people feeling abandoned and isolated at points in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable. The young people we worked with talked about how many friends or followers they had on social media. And it was the contacts outside their immediate state care environment that young people saw as their most precious commodity.”
The research also served to highlight the role digital networks can play in bonding lives that have, sadly, become socially fragmented. The research has also shown that social media platforms like Facebook can contribute positively to a foster child’s feeling of self-esteem. That happens is that foster children can gain ‘social capital’ – which in turn can improve mental health and well-being.
What can be concluded: Well, possibly, like so much that relates to human activities, social media is a curate’s egg – a very large egg. Certainly, there is much that is good – but much that is worrying – especially if it can destabilise our democracy. So, just as with fire, the central issue remains one of control: will our political structures be capable of withstanding the onslaught of social media as it becomes increasingly attuned to our needs, desires and wants. Herein lies a dangerous paradox: we could all too easily find ourselves held in a digital embrace – one capable of shaping those needs, wants and desires in ways we cannot easily anticipate.
Looking to join a leading foster care team?
Have you been mulling over the idea of becoming a foster carer? We would relish the chance to hear from you and discuss the options available to join Team Rainbow. Foster care can provide someone with many career opportunities – as well as the chance to work flexibly from home.
Being a foster carer means you can build a stimulating and rewarding career by taking up the considerable training opportunities Rainbow provide. But the single most important thing is you are dedicated to the idea of making a significant difference to the life of a vulnerable child or young person. You could well be the last chance they have to experience a secure and happy childhood.
Sadly, at this time more children are coming into the foster care system every day. And there is a marked shortage of foster carers. Want to help? You can contact our foster care recruitment team on 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845. use our National Line if preferred.
There is more to be learnt about the potential rewards of a career in foster care by visiting this page on our website – a click away: https://bit.ly/2OkgCzS We want to speak to applicants to foster in these particular areas: Manchester and Birmingham – visit https://bit.ly/2zdLb4G and https://bit.ly/2SyrFIU for more information about opportunities in foster care.
Interested in training to be a therapeutic foster carer – enhanced payment rates available?
Many children come into the care system traumatised. Why? They have suffered the effects of abuse of one kind or another. They need specialist help to overcome these experiences. Therapeutic foster carers have special training to support the work of specialist clinicians who help these children come to terms with their experiences. The work can be challenging for a therapeutic foster carer, but the rewards can be considerable. Interested? Call us for more information.
Foster care is in the news at: https://bit.ly/2kJHpsO