Using Social Media for Contact With Birth Families

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Social media, which includes various forms of communication conducted via the Internet, is dramatically changing the ways in which people connect and converse. It also is emerging as a significant factor in adoption openness. While exact numbers are not known, anecdotal evidence suggests that increasing numbers of adopted people and their birth families are finding each other through social networking sites, such as Facebook. In adoptions that are already open, social media is creating new questions for adoptive and birth parents. For example, adoptive parents may wonder if they should “friend” their child’s adoptive birth parent on Facebook or other social networks. Will they be comfortable if their child’s birth mother reads their blogs with stories of the adoption journey?

Tips For Using Social Media For Communication in Open Relationships

To set the groundwork for using social media to communicate, adoptive and birth parents should:

  • Talk with each other about their comfort levels in sharing information and photos via social media.
  • Decide which social media tools are appropriate for communication (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) and with what privacy settings.
  • Set boundaries upfront (for example, not commenting on one another’s walls, if that is important).
  • Before posting anything, think carefully about how it may be received by all who might see it.

Using Social Media in Search and Reunion

Among the benefits of using social networking sites and other forms of social media as an aid in search and reunion efforts is that they can connect adopted people and members of their birth family fairly quickly, free of charge, and without the need for an intermediary. These same benefits, however, also have downsides. For example, connections are being made between adopted people and their birth families without the benefit of important support systems. Also, online contact may occur with a preteen or child before the young person is developmentally ready. Sometimes adoptive parents find out about connections after the fact, and they may become upset or angry. If the adoption has been closed, adoptive parents may be fearful that their child is in contact with another adult they do not know.

Adoption professionals strongly recommend emotional preparation before search and reunion. These events can be enormously emotional and may tap into strong feelings of separation and loss. Preparation will help adopted children and youth, and their families, to think through their expectations and prepare for a range of potential reactions, including rejection. In addition, professionals encourage birth relatives to gradually make contacts and get to know each other slowly.8 While instant messages and swift replies are commonplace in social media, they are often not the best route for early communication with a birth relative, which instead benefits from slow and carefully considered responses.

With many youth commonly spending unsupervised time on the Internet, contacts between an adopted youth and his or her birth family members are sometimes taking place without the consent, or knowledge, of the adoptive parents. Teens may worry that their adoptive parents will feel betrayed by their search or will not understand their need to find out more about where they come from. It is important that adoptive parents prepare for the potential of social media connections by talking with their children about their adoption and providing guidance on the use of social media. The box below offers some tips. 9

If adoptive parents discover that contact between their child and a birth relative has already been made via social media, they should become involved in the relationship and set boundaries, as needed. One strategy is for adults to align—to reach out parent to parent—and make decisions together about future contact.

Using Social Media to Communicate in an Open Relationship

Within established relationships, social media offers easily accessible avenues for sharing information. As a result, birth parents can receive real-time updates on their child, while youth can find out more about their family connections. Online forums can help individuals stay connected even at remote distances.

Adoptive families are advised, however, to proceed cautiously when using social media for communicating in open or semi-open adoption relationships. It is important, particularly in new relationships, to share information slowly and build trust over time. Parents should consider their comfort levels for opening access to the information on their profiles, walls, and posts. Online comments can be easily misunderstood. What might be appropriate for close friends or neighbors might be misunderstood by birth family members at a distance. In particular, comments related to the adoption process or parenting may be misinterpreted or could potentially make birth family members uncomfortable. Similarly, some information on a birth relative’s site may be uncomfortable for an adoptive family or adopted child to read. In addition, some parents feel uneasy seeing their child’s picture posted.

Some adoptive and birth parents find it useful to create separate Facebook pages or private password-protected websites or blogs for contact between adoptive and birth families. This takes the relationship out of the public arena and allows for controlled access to information and photos. Others enjoy openly sharing information on established networks. Regardless of the forums selected, parents should use the same care in online communication as they would in face-to-face contact to make sure that it is appropriate and respectful to all potential viewers.

Using Social Media to Communicate in Intercountry Adoption

With its ability to bridge great distances, social media is being used increasingly to connect birth families, adoptive families, and their children who have been adopted through intercountry adoption. These include children adopted into the Unites States from foreign countries as well as U.S. children and youth who have been adopted by families in other countries. Outgoing adoption often involves open relationships. Individuals using social media for international contact may face additional challenges, including cultural differences and varying perspectives of adoption.

Continue to Resources for More Information About Open Adoption

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Resource

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Openness in adoption: Building relationships between adoptive and birth families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

Citations

8 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway’s Searching for Birth Relatives, available at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_search.cfm

9 For additional information, see Adoption Star. (2012). Adoption and Social Media. The Effects of Social Media and the Internet on Child Adoption, available at http://www.adoptionstar.com/wp-content/uploads/