Posted Thursday, September 13, 2012 by Team Northwoods

3 Ways Child Welfare Agencies Can Use Social Media Right Now

Guest post by Pat Rhoads, Social Media Specialist with AdoptUSKids

Like it or not, social media is here to stay.

Sure, you may use sites like Facebook to stay connected to distant family members, or to reconnect with old school classmates. But you may not yet have accepted that, as a business communication tool, it’s the future. Nay, it’s the present.

In the late 90s, many businesses and organizations asked if they really needed a website. In the early 2000s, the same questions were asked about emails. And we all know how those developments worked out. Obviously both of these became staples of how organizations operate and communicate.

Welcome to now, where social media has been making its impact on how people interact for the last 3-4 years. And it’s not just for the kids, either. According to this article about 2012 social media usage, 46% of Facebook users are over 45.AUSK_HHS-Logo

So what does this mean for child welfare agencies and departments? It means if you’re not using social media, you’re missing out on a valuable tool to help you do your job.

How you ask? Well, off the top of my head, here are three ways you could be using social media right now, at little or no cost.*

1. Recruitment of families

Amazingly, many people still don’t realize the need for families to foster and adopt from foster care. Although international adoption is decreasing, there is still a need to get families to consider becoming foster parents, even if their ultimate goal is to adopt.

Social media can play a role by sharing stories of children in need of families, spreading the word through statistics or infographics about the numbers of children in care (nationally or in your state/county), or getting already licensed families to matching events or other recruiting activities. Furthermore, the highly shareable nature of social media makes it easier for those already in the fold to spread the word to friends and followers.

2. Customer service

Remember when people politely followed your rules about how and when to contact you? Yeah, me neither. In all seriousness, there is a great opportunity to provide customer service through social media. Why, because when you do it well, lots of people see it. Solve someone’s problem well on a phone call, and it’s just between you and that person. Do it on Twitter, and lots of other followers (your and theirs) may see it. This is a golden opportunity to showcase the knowledge and expertise of your staff, and give your agency a reputation of being helpful and accessible.

But, you may ask, what if people post negative comments and complaints about us? Newsflash: They already are, they’re just doing it to their friends or to the media. With a presence on social media, there’s a greater chance of them doing so to you instead of to someone else about you. And that, of course, gives you a chance to answer your critics and again boost your reputation. Even for problems you can’t solve, a sincere attempt to do so and an apology when you can’t fix something is a lot better than people complaining about you behind your back.

3. Research

Does a kinship placement just not feel right to you? Doing some quick checks of family member’s social media profiles can be very informative. One state agency viewed the public profile of a relative of a child in care after that relative requested the child be placed with them. The person’s Facebook page was filled with repeated status updates of getting drunk and then being hung over. The staff used this information as part of their decision not to place the child in this relative’s care. (It should be noted that this information is all public, willingly posted on the internet by the family member himself.)

Another example of using social media for research is related to keeping track of children in care (especially older ones). Did one of your children in care run away from their foster placement? Chances are they Facebooked or tweeted about it, and said where they are now. Or maybe they posted photos on Instagram. Are your resource families following the rules, or have they posted photos and names of the children in foster care placed with them to some social media sites?

There are more ways to get more information about people, readily accessible and free, than ever before. Take advantage of this resource.

What do I post?

Part of using social media successfully is planning ahead. To that end, I’d like to share a few things we at AdoptUSKids do on Facebook to aid in our content planning, and hopefully these will give you some ideas as well (and feel free to “borrow” these for yourself).

  1. Featured children/siblings post every Monday. We’ve set up a pattern and expectation with our Facebook fans that every Monday we’ll post our featured child or sibling group for that week. Having this done on a consistent day of the week helps drive up the number of views these profiles receive.
  2. Every Wednesday is Worker Wednesday. Knowing that a small percentage of our Facebook fans are child welfare professionals, we feature a resource or article geared specifically to them every Wednesday. Not only does this resource help them, but we also hope that it gives families a bit of insight into the caseworkers’ world, building a bit of understanding on their part of what caseworkers go through in the course of their job.
  3. Feedback Fridays are a hit. Every Friday we ask a question, usually related to adoption or foster care. The best questions are ones you know people feel strongly about, such as “What do you think needs to be done to improve child welfare systems?” or “What books for children are good to help them better understand the journey of a foster or adopted sibling?” These questions are a great way to engage with people, and sometimes their insight can be valuable.

Like I said at the beginning, social media is here to stay. These tools can be a great resource for your agency – you may as well take advantage of them.

*Social media tools are available at little or no cost whatsoever. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t costs in terms of shifting resources, investment of staff time, or things that would have to be given up to make room and time for this. But that’s change. After all, the same process happened at some point when email was added. The fact is, the environment is changing, and you can use it to your favor.