Guidelines for Adoptive Parents
1. Discuss your plans regarding social networking with your spouse/partner early in the adoption process. It is critical for you to be on the same page.
2. Discuss your plans with your adoption case manager.
3. Recognize that you may have to function differently during and after the adoption process in regards to social networking than you have done in the past. For example, if you are a frequent user of facebook and you are comfortable sharing many details about your day, recognize that for the wellbeing of your child, you may need to change some of these habits.
4. Due to the complications that can occur with instantaneous and permanent communication between adoptive parents, birth families and adoptees, ideally, you should avoid communicating through this medium.
5. If you decide that you need to communicate electronically, set up a separate email address and a private website that you use only for adoption communication.
6. If you decide that you need to communicate through social networking, recognize the various settings of privacy on the site. For example, you can send private messages through the “message function” on facebook that only the recipient can see. This is different from posting on a public wall that is visible to all of your friends and all of the recipients friends (and possibly to even more people depending on their privacy settings).
7. Avoid any communication about plans for a future adoption in this public form. Remember that adoption is not permanent until it is finalized. Recognize that while many people will be happy to hear about your potential adoption, it could be more difficult to cope with any difficult outcomes if many people know.
8. Avoid any communication about the birth family with friends and family through social networking, particularly on public wall posts. Remember that this is your child’s story. Once it is out on the internet, it is no longer private and no longer your child’s story to discover and tell when she is ready.
9. If you decide to share pictures of your family on a social networking site, remember that everyone on your friend list (and possibly more if your privacy settings are set more broadly) can see the pictures. This is a question of discretion for all parents, not just parents who formed their family through adoption. If you are uncomfortable with sharing pictures publically, you can also send a private invitation to a picture sharing site (e.g., Snapfish or Shutterfly) or you can send the pictures via email.
10. Remember to apply these guidelines to extended birth family members as well.
11. Avoid “friending” or accepting a “friend request” from a birth parent or family member. Although this may seem harsh or cruel, having clear and solid boundaries from the beginning can help you form a healthy relationship between you and the family, this will ultimately benefit your child. Realize that when you and the other person are “friends” on a social networking site, you are each potentially exposed to the daily happenings of the other person’s life. This may be difficult for both parties as you may learn things about the other that you did not intend or want to know.
12. The internet is forever, so avoid any emotion laden communication about the adoption process, your child, or the birth family on a public site.
13. Utilize your adoption professional’s assistance in mapping out parameters in the post adoption contract for communication between you and the birth family.
14. Include social networking as an item in the post adoption contract, as you would also address phone and letter communication.
15. If you have teenage children who use social networking, recognize that they may be interested in searching for birth family members, and they also may be contacted through social networking sites by birth family members. Discuss these potential interactions ahead of time and expect that they will happen. You will be better prepared to deal with any challenges if you have discussed them with your child.
Guidelines for Birth Parents and Birth Families
1. The topic of communication and open adoption will come up when you are discussing the post-adoption contract. You can decide if you would like to receive letters and pictures. It is also a good idea to discuss if you would like to have direct contact via email.
2. It is recommended that you do not communicate with the adoptive family through a social networking site, such as facebook or myspace. Communication through this format is public, and things that you might expect are private can be seen by many people.
3. If the adoption took place several years ago, and if your child may be getting to the age when he or she might have a facebook or myspace page, call the adoption agency to ask them if there is a policy on reaching out through this method.
4. If you receive a “friend request” from the child or from his/her family, reach out to the agency to ask for support before responding. Remember that it can be an intense process to have this more direct style of contact and it’s important to have support if you decide to communicate in this manner.
5. Due to complications caused by instant and public communication via social networking sites, it is recommended that you do not communicate in this way, but that you use letter or traditional email to communicate.
Caroline Peacock is the author of Adoption Agreements in the Age of Facebook and formed her family through adoption. She is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in supporting children and families who have experienced adversity, and is a first year seminarian at an Episcopal seminary in New York City.