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Should social workers check parents social media?

By March 15, 2018October 25th, 2021No Comments

Social media postings have become an increasingly fruitful avenue for law enforcement authorities to obtain information about individuals and are often used in criminal court proceedings. And people’s digital footprint is also seen more frequently in the family courts nowadays, as parties use their ex’s online postings to bolster their case in litigation.  But to what extent do child protection officers officially use social media as an investigative tool when assessing at-risk children?  Should social workers check parents social media?

After the death of a child in England, the media discovered the existence of a video posted online on social media which showed the mother participating in an exorcism, “a video which social workers had missed”.   Now, a Serious Case Review conducted in relation to the child’s death has concluded that “viewing the video before the child was killed could have alerted social workers to problems within the family” and stated that “checks on the internet and social media can provide publicly available information about lifestyle and relationships to inform assessments.”  Assessing the video while working with the family “could have provided an opportunity to reflect” on potential risk, it was found.

As in Australia, Serious Case Reviews into child deaths are conducted to review the service delivery and practice of relevant child protection authorities with the families of the child who died, and to make recommendations about broader practice and systemic issues arising from the case, to promote continuous improvement of service delivery as well as boost public accountability about child deaths.

The Serious Case Review into the English boy’s death found that “social media posts could provide social workers with useful insights into troubled families” and that social media “could help social workers”.  For example, searches of parents social media postings could “contradict denials of contact with dangerous ex-partners”.

“When conducting assessments and reassessments of vulnerable families, practitioners may find that including internet and social media checks would enhance and triangulate information given by parents.”

Despite the fact that social media could be a valuable tool, the English case review was told that social workers do not routinely check parents social media postings or information publicly available on the internet relating to subject families.

And likewise, in Australia, child safety officers “would not routinely review the social media sites of families known to the department”, a spokesperson for the Queensland Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women told us.  While noting that child safety officers do “gather information from a range of sources to inform their assessments and decision-making”, the spokesperson made clear that the use of social media by Australian child safety officers is ordinarily limited to constituting “with consent, a platform used to share and access information updates” with families.

The department spokesperson pointed out, however, that “an individual who uses social media and who is concerned about the safety of a child due to the posted content, may contact the department to discuss their concerns.  If these concerns meet the department’s legislative threshold of significant harm and a parent unable and unwilling to care for the child, a child protection notification is recorded”.

In the wake of the coronial inquiry into South Australian child Chloe Valentine’s neglectful death several years ago, National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell advocated for “increased early surveillance of at-risk parents”, which one imagines would be assisted by surveillance of social media.

The coroner’s findings in the Chloe Valentine case were seen as contributing to the “weight of evidence that the state-based child protection systems are under-resourced and overburdened”, bearing in mind that “there is no national framework for child protection, social work and allied health education to ensure best practice can be taught and implemented on the ground”.

Notwithstanding the chronic under-resourcing issues plaguing the child protection system, should our authorities encourage child protection teams to make more systematic use of parents social media sites such as Facebook and update practitioner guidances in this regard?

FURTHER READING

Read about the UK case

View the Australian Department of Social Services’ Social Media Policy here

Do you need assistance with a family law matter?  Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice.  For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance.

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