The Benefits of Social Media for Young People in Care

Young people in care benefit from the psychological, emotional and social support gained via social media networks - according to new research from the University of East Anglia's Centre for Research on the Child and Family (CRCF). Until now, the automatic assumption has been that platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp only pose a risk for this vulnerable group.

But social media can help young people living in state care maintain healthy and appropriate birth family relationships and friendships, make new connections and ease transitions between placements and into adult independence.

The research is published in the British Journal of Social Work, ahead of Safer Internet Day 2018 Tuesday, February 6, 2018.

Researchers investigated how young people living in state care can benefit from social media use.

Lead researcher Dr Simon Hammond undertook more than 100 visits to four residential care settings in England over seven months. During this period, he conducted in-depth observations on how 10 young people routinely used social media in their everyday lives, as well as conducting focus groups and interviews with the young people and their social care professionals.

Dr Hammond said: "Young people in care face harder, faster and steeper transitions into adulthood with fewer resources than their peers.

"Placement instability often leads to young people feeling abandoned and isolated at points in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable.

"The young people we worked with talked about how many friends or followers they had on social media. And it was the contacts outside their immediate state care environment that young people saw as their most precious commodity."

Support network

Having positive online networks helped young people in care gain 'social capital'. Digital networks were found to help bond a fragmented social life and act as a bridge beyond the immediate care-home environment. "Having a strong social support network helps with the physical and psychological isolation reported by young people in care," said Dr Hammond.

"We found that emotional support from people outside the care environment was very important. Keeping up to date with friends and, in some cases birth family members, about everyday life events really helped provide a sense of belonging and connectedness."

The study shows how platforms like Facebook can contribute to increased self-esteem and mental well-being, which is particularly helpful for young people in care who frequently report feeling worthless, depressed and isolated.

Dr Hammond said: "Stigma and shame are described by many young people in state care. We found that social media provides a window to life before being in care and a way of distancing themselves from it.

Avoiding homelessness

"The risk of homelessness is a problem for young people transitioning from state care but it's an area where using social media could help.

"If young people can reconnect with, create and maintain networks, they have a better chance of accessing supportive networks when it comes to things like finding accommodation."

Organisational support

Social media also gave young people the chance to network with organisations that could help them with opportunities for personal progression. However, they were not always keen to 'like' or 'follow' organisations that highlighted their experience of state care because it left them vulnerable to stigma.

"Communication via social media carries risks for all users. However, these risks do not stop their usage. Understandably, from the perspective of staff at residential care homes, there was a lot of concern about how best to monitor internet use but we need to be engaged in this digital space to help protect society's most vulnerable young people."

"A digital resilience informed approach, which recognizes digital vulnerabilities and seeks to empower the susceptible to navigate toxic elements of using digital and social media in the context of supportive relationships, enables social care professionals to support young people to engage in this digital space.

This is important as our research reveals that social networks need to be viewed as an important resource for psychosocial support and that the risks shift as young people mature and progress towards independence."

"Social work policy and practice needs to start to look at how connections created or maintained via social media can have benefits beyond the young peoples' time in care. This longer-term view is vital, as the outcomes for young people do not stop once they leave care.

"We are not advocating a social media free-for-all or presenting social media as a magic wand. But there are positive ways to encourage young people to engage."

Commenting on the new findings, NSPCC associate head of Child Safety Online, Andy Burrows, said: "At the NSPCC we know that the internet opens up the world for children and gives them a space to play, learn and connect.

"This valuable piece of work makes clear the benefits of social media for looked after children and we welcome this contribution to the understanding of the impact of online. However, social networking carries risks as well as benefits and there is a responsibility on social media sites to make their platforms safe for their young users, including looked after children who can often be particularly vulnerable, so that they are free to enjoy the online world."

Simon P Hammond, Neil Cooper, Peter Jordan.
Social Media, Social Capital and Adolescents Living in State Care: A Multi-Perspective and Multi-Method Qualitative Study.
The British Journal of Social Work. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcx144.

Most Popular Now

Top 20 Breaking eHealth News of 2018

eHealthNews.eu proudly presents the top 20 most popular breaking eHealth news from 2018. Have a wonderful 2019 New(s) Year filled with health, happiness, and spectacular success!

Artificial Intelligence Advances Threate…

Advances in artificial intelligence have created new threats to the privacy of people's health data, a new University of California, Berkeley, study shows. Led by UC Berkeley engineer Anil Aswani...

Shaping Cloud Selects Highland Marketing…

Public sector cloud transformation specialists Shaping Cloud have chosen Highland Marketing as their marketing and PR partner to help them deliver their growth ambitions in the burgeoning health and care...

Artificial Intelligence System Learns to…

A team of investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Radiology has developed a system using artificial intelligence to quickly diagnose and classify brain hemorrhages and to provide...

Rewired Pitchfest Launched to Showcase B…

Digital health innovators and start-ups are invited to pitch their disruptive ideas and prototypes to NHS digital leaders and leading healthtech investors at the new Digital Health Rewired event next...

Allscripts Joins with Microsoft to Explo…

Today, Allscripts (NASDAQ:MDRX), a global leader in health care information technology, announced a collaboration with Microsoft focused on implementing an innovative, integrated model for clinical research, aiming to enhance clinical...

Merck Welcomes Ten New Startups to its I…

Merck, a leading science and technology company, today announced the ten startups that will be joining the seventh intake of its Accelerator program at the Merck Innovation Center in Darmstadt...

First Smartphone App to Detect Opioid Ov…

At least 115 people die every day in the U.S. after overdosing on opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And in 2016, illegal injectable opioids became the...

Stanford Researchers Create a Wireless, …

A new device developed by Stanford University researchers could make it easier for doctors to monitor the success of blood vessel surgery. The sensor, detailed in a paper published Jan...

AI Approach Outperformed Human Experts i…

A research team led by investigators from the National Institutes of Health and Global Good has developed a computer algorithm that can analyze digital images of a woman's cervix and...

Digital Health Consultancy Invests in Cy…

Digital health consultancy Populo Consulting has secured Cyber Essentials Plus certification, in a move that demonstrates its commitment to operating to the same high standards as its NHS clients. Cyber Essentials...