Blogger Warned By Court to Stop Showing Kids: Should You Worry?
Certainly we all can recognize blogging, especially niche blogging, presents an opportunity to take part in an online community -- a community where people support one another, exchange ideas or merely share a snippet (or more!) of our life with whomever happens to click and read our site.
I've got my own ideas about what I am comfortable putting online in regard to my family, my friends and my job. What feels right to me, might feel wrong to someone else, or vice versa. However from time to time a situation blows up on the blogosphere and while that blogger's experience may not mirror mine or yours, it may cause us all to reflect on some things about it anyway. Such was the case when a mom in Georgia posted an update on her Facebook page stating she had to promise the Department of Family Services in her county she would stop blogging and vlogging about her children. Initially folks kind of freaked out, I mean, how many of us have blogged or vlogged about children? Even including kids who may not be our own, maybe a friend's kid or possibly a niece, nephew or cousin in a post if the story was something we felt would resonate with our readers. The glaring difference in this situation happened to be this mom's kids are her foster children.
Foster kids are wards of the court -- meaning that this case is not just about "privacy," but also about confidentiality. If a child is in foster care, parental rights may or may not have been terminated. In most states, family preservation and unification may still be the goal written into the DFS case plan. In plain speak, this means the plan is to have the kids return to their own family after specific interventions have been successful. Any foster parent who is fostering a child with a reunification or family preservation plan in place is supposed to be supporting that goal, not working against it.
Looking at the case in Georgia through a social worker lens, I think there are quite a few pieces missing from this puzzle. But my guess is this isn't an issue about blogging as much as it is about state child protection laws -- possibly federal as well, since we're talking about the Internet, and a foster child's right to confidentiality and protection.
I've known children in foster care who were placed there due to horrific acts of domestic abuse; their placement in a home has been akin to being placed in a witness protection program. The foster home serves as their "safe house" until the non-abusive parent can get it together to parent the child again. Sometimes folks who have been through horrific abuse love their kids, but have issues which may override their ability to effectively parent a child until they undergo therapy/parenting classes/getting sober/you name it. I've worked with many foster kids, and the confidentiality issues are HUGE. Breaking them is sufficient grounds for removal if legal agreements are in place and have been violated by the posting of information not approved by the court and/or family of origin.
But should you be scared that your blog is being stalked by social workers who are just a click away from popping into your life and running out the door with your children? No. I don't think you should be.
What I do want to do is reassure those of you who may be concerned about having DFS swoop in to remove a child, try not to panic. Made-for-TV movies and the media have done a fabulous job of making social workers appear as if we are all baby snatchers, but even worse than that is the fear-mongering when it comes to child custody issues. Many years ago, it was fairly simple to terminate the rights of a parent or remove a child from a home, with very little documentation to support that action. Not the case any more. Sure, there are sometimes massive screw-ups in the system, and those always make the news (states of Florida and New York, I'm looking at you!), but generally speaking, it takes a hell of a lot to remove a child from a home and the documentation involved, the hearings involved are a vast undertaking -- particularly so these days, because family preservation and reunification is the primary model in most DFS departments in the United States.
Even if a child is removed in an emergency or temporarily from a home, the first placement workers are instructed to find is with a relative who knows the child, or a friend of the family who knows the child.
I wrote a post about what happens when a person makes a DFS (CPS) referral, which may also help shed light on what happens when you make that call. It might also help to know that in 2009 there were almost half a million children in foster care in the United States, and the largest percent of those children spent 1-5 months in the system before being returned to their family or origin.
The foster care system was designed to protect children. Is it a perfect system? No, of course not. Is it an overworked institution? Yes, it is. But does it generally provide the majority of children with an alternative to being abused or even killed? I would argue it does.
So where does this leave the blogger who chooses to write about the trials and tribulations of parenting and simultaneously fears that putting it out there might be risking losing custody of a child? If you are a foster parent, check with your state and make sure you are following whatever is required to protect the confidentiality of the children in your care. If you are unsure, then ask your caseworker. Don't get an answer? Keep pursuing the question. I can tell you with absolute certainty that some of the best child advocates I have met have been foster parents.
If you aren't a foster parent, but you still worry, then maybe take a look at what you are writing and ask yourself, "Why do I need to put this out there? Who could potentially be hurt if I do? Can I deal with the consequence if it's negative?" I'm not suggesting you edit your every move -- I'm merely tossing out an idea to help assess your risk vs. benefit. There are bloggers whom have said their blog was an obstacle to having an adoption approved (thankfully not an insurmountable one, and the adoption did go through!). Other bloggers have been known to ease up on posting during a pending adoption, and still others choose to go on hiatus until the new addition becomes a permanent one. If you have already adopted a child and worry that the birth mother won't like your blog and will demand her baby back, try to ease up on your worry. Karen Walrond from Chookooloonks observes, "For what it's worth, the media does a great job of making all birth mothers look like crazed stalkers as well." Thankfully, we've not come across a made-for-TV movie where the birth mother is a social worker. If we did, wouldn't that just put things in the spin cycle but good? There's enough paranoia to go around already, thankyouverymuch.
Bottom line is this: If you have any concerns, find out what the law in your area covers regarding blogging, adoption and foster care. As Judge Judy reminds me every day from my DVR, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law." Sure, there are horror stories of what happened to your best friend's sister's aunt who used to live with her brother but now lives in Hoboken with her boyfriend because someone's grandmother reported the blog to Child Protective Services, but really, the likelihood of you losing custody of your kids over your blog is far less likely to happen.
Does it happen? Sure. But does it happen often? I seriously doubt it. And if I'm wrong, I guess we'll all see it depicted in a made-for-TV movie next year.