Handling social media information in family court cases
Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive
We hear the words “social media” and everyone has very mixed responses. Some fully embrace it, some are cautiously curious, while others give it a wide berth. But I think we would all agree that it is all around us. To reflect this, as social workers we need to have some understanding of what it means for our practice.
Our practitioners are increasingly provided with Facebook posts, instant messaging and screenshots as ‘evidence’ within proceedings. When information is presented in the form of social media, many can be unsure as to how to manage this, and it can often create moments of uncertainty. But as social workers we consider all types of information on a daily basis. We seek to validate it and confirm its relevance for the issues of the case and for the children. Ultimately we are asking ‘what does this information mean for the child?’ If we begin to consider social media information in the same way, it will appear less scary and less overwhelming for all involved.
We recently updated our social media policy to reflect this. We wanted to make sure the policy enabled practitioners to feel confident in their work. It also provides clarity that the methods of communication they use with children and their families, are safe and within appropriate boundaries.
We don’t want children to feel that the level of service they received depended on how savvy their practitioner was with technology. Neither did we want to introduce communication methods that were not achievable for all practitioners and blurred the boundaries of work and home life. So our policy and practice is grounded in professionalism and sets out clear expectations around all aspects of social media. It is vitally important that we do embrace and understand the world of young people; it’s their world and we need to train ourselves in it, the same as we would train in any other subject about which we were unsure. We’ve also updated our online training modules on social media and this is a vital resource for practitioners to draw on.
We’re also aware of a small number of cases where the court has suggested using social media to locate relevant individuals and to communicate with parents. It was important that any updated policy and practice addressed both the current climate and future direction. We’ve introduced a corporate Facebook page to support practitioners with individual requests and this is managed by our Communications Team.