I’ve seen a couple of ‘Missing Child’ posts on Facebook this week and I wanted to explain why I won’t be sharing them. They are always heart wrenching pleas for help. Some of them, I have no doubt, are genuine. I know this as a quick search on Google and I find that the police are also concerned for their whereabouts and are actively searching for them with the support of authorised charities and agencies. However, there are some that are not what they seem*.
Some are simply a hoax and some of them are not ‘missing’ at all. The child may have been adopted due to the risk of significant harm; they may be in hiding with their other parent as a result of serious domestic violence within the home; or the whole family may be in police protection and the concerned ‘father’ is not who he claims to be. Furthermore, ‘missing adults’ may wish for their location to remain anonymous, and they do have that right which we must respect. As virtual strangers we do not know the circumstances of their ‘disappearance’ and we should trust in the expertise of professionals to get the full picture.
In October 2013, there was a case in Sweden where a father published a photo of his missing children and asked for help in finding them. Thousands of people helped by sharing the post and finally one person recognised the children and let him know where to find them. What Facebook users weren't aware of was that the mother and her children were living under protection and with a new identity after leaving the father. When he found them they were forced to move again, but the consequences could have been much worse.
Jayne has also been in touch to say that she "know[s] of a Father who'd been rehomed with his children and the Mother found her children who were in protective custody from her using facebook. Really good to make people aware!!".
In other cases here in the UK, the birth parents of adopted children are using Facebook and other social networking sites to track down their children, flouting the usual controls and safeguards. Incidents are becoming more and more common and many local authorities are now advising adoptive parents not to include photographs in their annual letters, in case these are posted online in an attempt to trace the child.
F.m has said: "We have 3 children who are adopted, and we had this happen. We had sent the birth family photos with the letter of our girls as bridesmaids. They were then posted on Facebook as 'abducted, please help us find them', very scary indeed. They were removed from their birth family for very good reason, and must be protected from them for life. Social media is dangerous and we live in fear of someone posting something which helps birth family find them."
So, what can you do to help?
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* This post is not referring to genuine appeals for information by the police or any authorised charity acting on their behalf.
I'm a Qualified Children's Social Worker with a passion for safeguarding and family support in the UK.