Internet, Photographs and Mobile Phones

Standards & Regulations

Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (England) 2011:

Training, Support and Development Standards for Foster Care:


  1. Introduction
  2. Internet
  3. Photographs
  4. Mobile Phones, Social Networking Sites and Apps
  5. Websites and Useful Information

1. Introduction

Different ways of communicating with friends are important to a child/young people and are now a way of life from an early age. When a child is placed with you, find out their background and about their internet use and access to technology. It’s important to understand if the internet, photographs and mobile phones contributed towards any abuse so that you can plan their use safely for all children but particularly those where it has been an issue. You should ask the child’s social worker for advice and information.

Your knowledge of different technology and devices will vary but it is important that foster carers develop their understanding of different electronic devices, the internet and social media, and that you learn how to safeguard children when using the internet and mobile devices. Foster carers should also be aware of and alert to the signs of grooming behaviour. Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation.

See also Child Sexual Exploitation.

If you are concerned that a child/young person is being bullied or contacted by strangers or people they should not be in touch with over the internet or phone, you should talk to them about it, record what is happening in the daily record and speak to the child’s social worker as soon as possible.

2. Internet

You should take part in a child’s internet use, particularly for a new child in placement; schoolwork is an ideal opportunity for this. Discuss the web's positive and negative sides and tell them that if they are not sure about a site are worried about something they’ve seen or someone they are talking with, then they should talk to you.

Some useful guidelines are;

  • Before a child is placed into your care, acquaint yourself with the internet and social media. Feel confident in your understanding of the subject and equip yourself with the knowledge to deal with the potential issues;
  • Time limits on computers/devices (games consoles, mobile phones, tablets etc) should be agreed with the child/young person, ideally at the point of placement;
  • Appropriate internet security (e.g. parental controls) must be used on all computers, games consoles, tablets and mobile phones in the house to limit access to inappropriate material. If you choose to use tools that monitor internet use then be clear and open with the child so they are aware and understand that they are in place to keep them safe. Always be aware that parental controls tools may not always work, so appropriate supervision and education about safe use is essential;
  • You should set clear ground rules on the use of the internet, ideally with the child/young person’s input (as appropriate). Take it one step at a time, give them the opportunity to become accustomed to any changes before moving onto the next. Implement your ground rules across the whole family, do not be seen to be singling them out;
  • Computers and internet enabled devices (games consoles, tablets etc.) should be in areas of the house where adults can see what is being looked at rather than in a bedroom. Always supervise the use of webcams and any applications or devices which allow voice or video chat. Be aware that many mobile phones and devices provide internet access which means education about safe use is crucial as their use cannot always be supervised. If a young person has a laptop or other internet enabled device, then decide with them where and when they can use it if they are accessing the internet;
  • Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they "meet" on the internet without first speaking to the child’s social worker;
  • Discuss using strong passwords with the child/young person so they understand how they can protect their online accounts. It’s important they know they need to keep their passwords safe and not share them with anyone or use the same password for several accounts. If your child’s account is “hacked” or compromised then make sure they change their password and report any concerns or suspicious activity;
  • The child should never respond to any messages that are rude, threatening, or makes them feel uncomfortable. Encourage the child to talk to you about messages like this. If the child receives a message or sees something online  that you are concerned about, keep a copy and make a note in the daily record;
  • Remember that people online may not be who they say they are. Teaching the child to be cautious online is important and can help when they use the internet for research or start to use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter;
  • You should always read any terms and conditions of websites, games, “apps” or tools the child uses. Once you’ve read them it’s important to explain and discuss them with the child as it's important you both understand them;
  • Many children enjoying playing games online either via games consoles, mobile phones, computers/laptops and tablets devices. Make sure you understand the games ratings of the games your child plays as they could affect your child: Always look for any parents advice or help section on online gaming sites (a child focused or appropriate site will have information for parents/carers). Also make sure you visit the game console providers websites and industry websites for advice and information on setting controls, time limits and safe family use;
  • You should try to equip the child with the skills to decide who to trust, even when they have not met the person face-to-face and talk to the child/young person about what makes a real friend;
  • Ask the child/young person to teach you about the sites they use and learn about any tools you can help them use to keep them safe (e.g. privacy settings, report or blocking tools). Many sites provide advice for parents/carers so make sure you access and read them carefully;
  • Keep up-to-date with the sites and tools the child/young person uses. Be aware that technology changes very quickly so it’s important to keep communication channels open and learn about new sites they use;
  • You should show an interest in the internet and encourage young people to be open about any concerns or problems. Make sure they know that they will not get into trouble and that you will help them or access support with them if necessary;
  • Talk openly and regularly about the positives and negatives of the internet. Try not to demonise the technologies and the sites they use. It’s essential to be realistic: banning the internet or web sites will not work and it often makes a child less likely to report a problem so education around safe use is essential;
  • If you have any concerns regarding a child/young person’s internet use then it’s important to make a note in the daily record and speak to their social worker as soon as possible.

Social Networking

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are very popular ways of keeping in touch with friends and family, sharing photos and videos and expressing our thoughts and opinions. When used safely, they can be very positive communication tools, however it’s important that carers understand how they work, the possible risks and the steps to take keep children safer.

When they use social networking sites then you should discuss safe use. You should ensure that the child's profile and postings is private (friends only) and do not contain any information that might expose their identity or whereabouts. Discuss the importance of only adding people as “friends” who are known and safe and be aware that if contact is not allowed in the real world, then it should not take place in the online environment.

Think about the whole family’s online reputation. If you, your partner or your birth children use online spaces, such as social networking sites ensure privacy settings are set to private, check that the shared content is appropriate and that you are only ‘friends’ with people you know and trust in the real world. Any child placed with you will be looking to you for guidance so as a family, practice what you preach and set a positive example.

Many websites have an “opt out” rather than “opt in” policy for some of their functions such as GPS services and facial recognition. It is essential to understand what services each site offers and how these options can be controlled.

Discuss the idea of being a good online friend and that “if you wouldn’t say it offline then you shouldn’t say in online”. Discuss the risks involved in accepting random unknown people as 'friends’ and recommend they only add “friends” they actually know in real life.

Carefully consider the age limits/recommendations for any social networking site and what any breaches could expose a child too. Always remember that if a child can lie about their age online, so can anyone else they are talking too. If the child is under 13 then read the guidance from CEOP regarding under age use of social networking sites and ensure you discuss concerns/approaches with your child’s social worker.

Make sure they understand that once they’ve posted a comment or picture etc. they can’t take it back, if someone else (even a friend) can see it, they can copy, save it and potentially use it or share it with someone else. 

Explore the website together and make sure you understand how the sites and technologies they are using work. Make sure they (and you) know how to block unwanted contact from strangers, unsafe people or anyone subject to a non-contact order.

Make sure you and the child understand how to report a problem - to the site and/or using the CEOP Report Abuse button.

It’s important to be careful that children do not share any personal information via social networking sites. Some ways in which this can be prevented are:

  • Don’t use full names online, always use nicknames which cannot lead to anyone being identified (this is especially important for vulnerable children and those subject to a no contact order);
  • Never share contact details such as phone numbers, email, addresses etc online;
  • Don’t share “unsafe” photos e.g. a photo showing their school uniform or location. Children should carefully select appropriate profile photos which don’t reveal too much information or present themselves inappropriately. Children should consider using an “avatar” which is an online representation of themselves such as a cartoon or favourite animal;
  • If a social networking site allows you to share your location via GPS (Global Positioning System) on mobile phones, then make sure it is only shared with safe and appropriate contacts or is not used at all.

Social Networking and Foster carers

If you use Social Networking ensure that your privacy settings are such that only those who you give permission to can see your comments/photos etc.

E-safety training is available and you should undertake this to ensure that you understand your responsibilities as a foster carers using this media. This training is updated regularly and so you should consider undertaking at regular intervals

3. Photographs

If it is OK to take pictures or videos then always ask the child’s permission first and make sure they are clear on who will see them and why.

You should try and take photographs regularly of the child/young person to help record their life; it may also help when putting together their Life Story book. See Keeping Memories.

You should be clear on who can give consent for the child to have their picture taken or be filmed for school etc.

You should never post or send a child’s photo to an open media site.

4. Mobile Phones, Social Networking Sites and Apps

Mobile phones and some apps now offer many different ways to stay in touch with friends and family: text messaging, taking pictures, sending and receiving them, sending and receiving video clips and music, as well as access to the internet. This means that children and young people are able to access the internet, communicate with others, play games, and download or send/share pictures and videos so safe use must be discussed and considered carefully prior to placement.

It’s important to discuss mobile phone usage prior to the placement and set appropriate boundaries for safe usage. It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others and an agreement reached between the young person, social worker and foster carer about how safely to do this.

Make sure you know how their phone works (e.g. does it have Bluetooth, Internet access etc.). Decide together acceptable bills and encourage balanced use e.g. switching off the phone at mealtimes and bedtime.

It’s important to discuss and agree the type of content that you would be happy for them to download, knowingly receive or send on to others. Ensure they are aware that once a picture, video or message is sent, then it is impossible to delete it and they can’t take it back, if someone else (even a friend) can see it, they can copy, save it and potentially use it or share it with someone else.

With a camera phone a child/young person can also send pictures of themselves and friends other information such as where they live or go to school etc, which can have security implications for some Children in Care. Many Smart Phones allow children to download “apps” which can allow them to play games and communicate quickly and freely using internet connections. You should ensure that you are aware what “apps” children/young people are accessing and understand how they work and the safe use of apps should be discussed so that children/young people understand how to behave online.

Mobile phone network providers operate a barring and filtering mechanism to prevent those under 18 years accessing 18 rated content. The service can be provided for both contract and pay as you go phones. You are advised to explore this with the network provider that a child/young person uses or see what other services they offer. Visit the phone provider’s website for advice for parents/carers e.g. how to block adult content online and how to report abusive or unwanted contact.

5. Websites and Useful Information

See also: