Children in foster care today inhabit a world of social media unimaginable only a few years ago. Can they be expected to cope with it, when we adults are as prone to its potential for manipulation as we fear our young people maybe? And we definitely are – with results that are only now becoming apparent.
The emergence of technology platforms delivering a limitless world of social media is akin in human history to the discovery of fire. There must have been many fingers burnt all those millennia ago. There is a parallel today: when the President of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was interviewed this week about the harvesting of 50 million Facebook profiles for Cambridge Analytica, he admitted that ten years ago, he could never have foreseen that Facebook would be ‘in the dock’ for facilitating the manipulation of a US presidential election. This had the ring of truth about it, since he took a few days to surface to respond to the growing media storm. We have learnt that this data analytics firm worked alongside Donald Trump’s election team and that millions of Facebook profiles were used to create a software programme capable of predicting and influencing the way people voted. Facebook has tried to deny this harvesting of personal information was a data breach, but the genie is now clearly out of the bottle. There is the sense of a growing backlash against social media – understandable – if through the deployment of sophisticated algorithms swing voters can be targeted to possibly determine who runs the most powerful nation on earth. We stand today before these technologies; like our ancestors must have done on their first contact with fire, transfixed, beguiled and not imagining a smouldering branch could reduce a forest to ashes.
Our technological world could only have come into existence through the taming of fire. Today we are in a similar situation – confronting a phenomenon that justifies extreme caution. But we must not succumb to a form of collective fear and paranoia. Social media in other ways is having a very positive effect. And this has been difficult to foresee: the belief platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp pose a direct risk to young people – especially those in care – has been widespread. This is understandable as paedophiles have used the internet to groom children. Initiatives like the recent Safer Internet Day also keep us, rightly, primed to the risks posed by the online world. Now we learn, through recent research from the University of East Anglia’s Centre for Research on the Child and Family, that youngsters in care can benefit from the emotional, psychological and social support social media networks can give. More specifically, these young people can be helped by social media to maintain appropriate and healthy ‘birth family’ relationships as well as friendships. The transition between placements through to adult independence is aided by the connections young people can make on these platforms.
Dr Simon Hammond was the lead researcher: 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 highlighted that digital networks can play a part in bonding lives that have become socially fragmented. The research has demonstrated that platforms like Facebook can contribute positively to a foster child’s sense of self-esteem. They gain ‘social capital’ and this can improve mental wellbeing.
What are we to conclude. Well, like so much in life, social media is a curate’s egg. And it is a very large egg. There is much that is very good, and much that has the power to rock the very foundations of our democracy. So, just as with fire, the issue is one of control. Can our political structures withstand the onslaught of social media as it becomes ever more attuned to our needs, wants and desires. For herein lies the danger: we could find ourselves held collectively in a digital embrace capable of shaping those needs, wants and desires.
There is a lot to think about – especially if you have a family: a large number of family members have reported to us that being part of a foster family has had a very positive result. If you have your own children, you should make sure that you have spoken to them about your interest in foster care. This should be a family decision – and remember there is training for the children of foster carers.
Large numbers of children’s referrals indicate the presence of complex emotional and behavioural needs. A lot of young people are in care having experienced trauma. This calls for a specific type of foster care: therapeutic care. Becoming a therapeutic foster carer means you will receive specialist training enabling you to provide the right kind of support and stability. We will give you the guidance on how to become a therapeutic foster parent, awareness of different therapeutic fostering models and explain how we can also offer therapeutic foster care training online.
Helping children to recover from what can be extremely traumatic experiences can be particularly rewarding. So should you want to know what is therapeutic fostering in more detail, simply call 020 8427 3355 – or you can call our National Number – 0330 311 2845.
We would also welcome applications from members of the LGBT community, especially in London who want to foster.
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Urgent need for foster carers and adoptive homes
22nd March, 2018
At present there are approximately 270 foster cares who are looking after children and young people in Cornwall. The local council is actively encouraging more people to consider becoming foster carers. And as is the situation in many other parts of the country, there is a particular need for foster carers to look after sibling groups. Providing foster care (more) http://bit.ly/2e8PrIK
Latest news at the end of our Rainbow…we are putting the finishing touches to our cookery competition as part of promoting good nutrition.