There is no doubt that the emergence of social network sites such as Facebook has changed the way that we all communicate with each other. At the touch of a button, you can find long lost friends and relatives.
The British Association of Adoption and Fostering [BAAF] claim that the ease in finding and contacting people through social media sites is already having an impact on many adoptive families and has the potential to affect many more.
On the one hand, there have been positive stories such as Richard Marks who managed to trace his birth mother who had given him up for adoption thirty three years earlier. Richard had found his birth family after sending messages to everyone on Facebook who shared his original name. He commented that, ‘Facebook has changed my life…. I always knew I was adopted and I had real issues with feeling rejected…’
However, it is now well known that some adopted children are being stalked by their birth relatives who are now happily settled in adoptive families. There are also reports of children taking the initiative and using Facebook to communicate with their relatives who they are not supposed to have contact with because of court orders, social work decisions or adoption. Often those children will not appreciate the danger that they might be placing both themselves and their new family. There is at least one web service which offers to trace birth parents and other birth relatives of adopted children.
When final adoption orders are made, there is always a very happy court hearing when the children and their new families go to court to have the order confirmed. Photographs are taken of the child with their family and also with the Judge. Now the courts are having to warn families not to put such photos on Facebook in case the child’s relatives are trying to find them.
It is clear that sites such as Facebook are here to stay. The key to protecting vulnerable families and children is to make sure that they are aware of the risks involved and to put in place measures to make such children safe.