Keeping adopted children safe from online risk

Image: Yutaka Seki

Many adopted young people have suffered negative experiences in childhood, such as loss, grief and disruption in their families. Exposure to these distressing events in childhood can make them more vulnerable to risk both online and offline.

Online, adopted children face the possibility of contact from their birth family. Sometimes birth families bypass the traditional route of using an adoption agency to find their relatives and instead use online sites such as Facebook to trace and locate them. Some adopted children also actively search for their birth relatives in secret. When they are successful, this can place them in risky situations.

For a child, finding their birth family through the traditional channels can already be emotionally challenging, even with the preparation and significant support that this would typically involve. Thanks to the nature of the internet, online contact can be instant and direct, and can take place without anyone knowing.

This contact brings about additional complexities: what may start well and feel like a ‘honeymoon’ period can quickly spiral out of control. The child could find themselves facing demands from additional relatives looking to make contact. These individuals may have varying accounts of the events leading up to the adoption that could leave the child confused and upset.

As an adoptive parent, it is important that you:  

  • Take an interest in your child’s online life. Use the internet as a family. Discuss their favourite sites and the 'friends' they have in these spaces.  
  • Talk to your child about what they would do if they heard from a member of their birth family online. If the situation does arise, having a plan in place means they will be more likely to come to you for support.  
  • Recognise that your child may be curious about their past and the people in it. Let them know that you understand their curiosity and that it’s OK to talk about it with you. Emphasise that you won’t be upset or angry.  
  • Ask your child to set privacy settings on the sites they use online. This will ensure that they have more control over their personal information and who can gain access to it. Do the same on the sites you use and be careful what information you and the rest of the family post about your adopted child.  
  • Don’t be afraid to seek further support. Contact your child’s adoption agency if you have any queries about online contact from birth families. And if you are concerned that your child may be in danger, call 999.

Go here to see CEOP's video of Eileen Fursland, author of Facing up to facebook: a survival guide for adoptive families to find more information on keeping adopted children safe online.

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