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December/January 2013Vol. 13, No. 11Social Media Use in Child Welfare

By Julie Ohm Chang, M.S., Project Manager, National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology

Social media isn't a trend. It's now a principal way that people share information and stay connected. Social media technologies such as podcasts, RSS feeds, social networking sites, text messaging, and blogs allow anyone to create, modify, and share content easily and inexpensively.

As organizations and agencies develop strategies for its use, social media is becoming more common in the child welfare field. It can help child welfare programs conduct activities ranging from advertising to staff recruitment, collaboration, networking, fundraising, and finding and supporting foster parents. Social media can help reach potential or current foster/adoptive parents, at-risk parents, past or current foster youth, mandated reporters (such as teachers and doctors), a specific neighborhood, or staff of partner or champion organizations through innovative communication tools. Additionally, social media can potentially boost the effectiveness of a wide range of programs, such as adoption, child protective services, foster care, and youth development. For effective use, however, agencies must develop two key components: a social media strategy and a social media policy.

Developing Your Social Media Strategy
It can be overwhelming to consider how different social media tools might benefit your agency and the children and families you serve. For example, does your agency need a Twitter or Facebook account? Who posts the updates, how often, and what should the content be?

Instead of looking at all of the social media options and trying to figure out what you can do with them, child welfare agencies should take a look at their current programs and goals to see if any can be enhanced by social media tools. It is also important to think about the audience you want to reach. What information do they need and where will they look for it? Here are some examples.

Examples of Goals, Audience, and Tools

Program or AreaGoal(s)AudienceTool(s) Used and Examples
Professional developmentHelp people know what is availableChild welfare professionals
General public relationsGeneral public relationsGeneral public
Child abuse preventionIncrease awareness of dangers of shaking a baby, news, awarenessParents and child care providers, other professionals working with children
Community outreachSecure more donations of suitcases and duffel bags for children and youthSchool groups, church groups, other organizations
Community buildingConnect foster parents to resourcesNew and experienced foster parents
RecruitmentEnlist more families to register for trainingPotential foster/adoptive or respite families
WorkforceJob previewsSocial work students, others considering a career in child welfare

Social Media Policy, Safety, and Security
Social media use brings concerns about safety and security. Child welfare information is sensitive and must be protected, and yet social media is all about sharing information. Experts say children in foster care especially need guidelines for using social media to prevent the unintentional disclosure of sensitive information. Even private messages on social networking sites are not truly secure. Organizations can address concerns by adopting a clear and comprehensive policy and designating trained people in the agency to manage its presence on social media.

Here are some things to consider when creating a social media policy:

  • Is there already a social media strategy? Social media policy and strategy should align to avoid conflicts and allow for effective communication.
  • Consider whether existing policies need to be revised to incorporate social media. Your organization may need to revise existing policies on communications, antitrust law, employee codes of conduct, and so on.
  • Adopt a policy that takes into account unofficial outposts (personal accounts), official outposts (your organization's Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts), and home bases (such as websites, blogs, or internal social networks).
  • Consider how your organization will respond to negative comments or replies, crisis situations, and queries from journalists.
  • Find your division or State's social media policies and learn them. Post them in the office. If your organization doesn't have separate social media guidelines, find your external communications policy and see if social media are covered. Talk with your public affairs or external communications team and discuss social media. Read The Getting Started With Government 2.0 Guide.
  • If your organization is a nonprofit, read The Nonprofit Social Media Policy Workbook

Example Social Media Policies
Here are examples of existing social media policies from child welfare, human services, and related organizations:

For more information and examples, see the publication Social Media for Child Welfare Resource Guide by the National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology.