Foster carers look after some of the UK’s most vulnerable children. They have to have strength of character and love in their heart to do so, but fostering is also about having real skills to look after these children. The skills that are needed evolve over time, and foster carers need to work extremely hard at developing their knowledge in areas that they may never have come across before so that they can tackle new issues with confidence.
This has never been truer than in the last five years, with the rise of social media. No longer is the internet just a place to help children do their homework, people use it for a whole variety of interactive activities, from shopping to meeting friends. The digital world is moving so quickly that as soon as most people got up to speed with Myspace, it was already obsolete and Facebook began to rule the roost. Then along came Twitter and unsettled the applecart, letting people thrust opinions (of up to 140 characters) out into the world for all to see at the click of a button.
Despite all of this though, the internet isn’t scary. For the vast majority of the time it is a very safe place for children and young people to be. Without the internet how could children find out about the indigenous trees of Bolivia at a moment’s notice, or how could you find out the breaking news in your area?
It is also packed full of knowledge, information and opportunities for young people to interact with each other. For foster carers the internet has incredible possibilities when it comes to facilitating contact, beyond face to face, for looked-after children with their birth families and their friends. By helping to co-ordinate this kind of contact, if approved by the child’s social worker, then you keep control of situations that could otherwise lead to unsupervised and inappropriate contact. Children have access to the internet so often, and so easily, that not to engage is to push a child away rather than to protect them.
Pulling the plug on the internet just isn’t an option. If you don’t have the internet in your home, and with more and more schools asking that homework research be done on the internet, the children that you look after will be left behind. This is why a common-sense approach to internet safety must be taken, and the Fostering Network’s new publication, Fostering in a Digital World: a common sense guide, can be the first step in helping you. The purpose of the guide is to support you in feeling assured that you can not only support looked-after children with their use of the internet, but also to be able to offer advice and guidance about using the internet safely.
Find out more about Fostering in a Digital World: a common sense guide, including how to order your copy, from the Fostering Network website. You can also find out more about Safer Internet Day 2013 on their website.
Dominic Stevenson, media and communications officer at the Fostering Network