If you’ve got school-aged children, sharing their photos online is a hotly-debated topic. When your child is adopted, school event photos and sharing them online isn’t just about privacy. It can often be about security too.
Adoption is complex and there are many different reasons why children can’t live with their birth families. Sometimes, the level of risk to theirs and their new family is extremely high and so an out of area placement is required.
Even if there isn’t a physical threat, there can be a risk of disruption if a child’s location is discovered by their birth family.
As we move into school Christmas performances, it’s important for parents to understand what schools can do with images of your children, and what you can do if things go wrong.
We live in a culture where a lot of people live their lives online. They share what they’re having for tea, invite their followers to “get dressed” with them. Nothing is off-limits for some when it comes to interacting with their followers.
The level of sharing you do is a personal choice. What you’re comfortable with may not be what your best friend is happy with. But it’s a choice.
Our younger children don’t have a choice about whether they want their photos sharing online. That’s where parents have the responsibility to decide whether images should be shared or not.
When it comes to your own personal images and social media accounts, that is usually easy enough to manage. Make it clear to friends and family what, if anything, you’re happy for them to share. And if they overstep the line, ask them to take the images down.
But what happens when it’s people you don’t know who are sharing images? Or when your child’s school wants your consent to let them share some images on their website or social media account?
School event photos: sharing online
The level of control you have over images of your child being used will depend on a few different factors. However, data protection means that schools should get your consent to use your child’s image. At the start of each school year, parents should get a form that allows them to either opt-in or opt-out of their child’s photo being used.
Most schools have social media accounts and images may be shared there. Or they may be shared in other promotional videos or material.
For all parents, whether their child’s image is shared should be a personal choice. But it’s not always an easy one, particularly for adopted children.
We made the decision to allow photos of our children to be used online and in promotional material. It’s not a decision we took lightly, but on balance we felt not allowing their images to be used would affect them more than if they were.
Each school will be different, but the level of technology used isn’t always the most advanced. We’ve seen photos on our children’s school’s social media account where several pupils have their faces replaced with balloons. They stick out like a sore thumb.
Assessing the risks
I worry that that will do more harm to the child in the future than if they’d been in the image. Most people look for their own child and don’t take much notice of the other kids. But having a child’s face covered by something like a balloon draws a lot more attention to them than if there beautiful face had been visible.
Our eldest daughter saw a photo like that when I showed her an image of her (in the background) at a school sports event. She was completely horrified and struggled to understand why her friend’s face had been covered in that way. At the time, she was too young to understand about online security and the right to decide whether your image is shared online.
She was very sad that someone had done that to her friend’s face.
That’s probably an extreme example. But that was our train of thought in terms of school photos. The chances of our daughter’s photo ending up on their social media often is quite small. But we didn’t want her to feel that she was being excluded because of her background.
She already feels very different to her friends because she’s adopted. So we don’t want to make that worse by her face being blocked out in the odd photo she’s in. For us, that was more important than any risk of her being identified by her birth family.
What can you do when photos are published?
School staff are human and sometimes mistakes can be made. If your child’s image in published when you haven’t consented to this happening, get in touch and ask them to take the image down. I’d be very surprised if all schools don’t do this.
However, problems can arise when it isn’t the school who are sharing images, but other parents. We’re heading into school Christmas performance season when parents want to capture the magic of their child appearing on stage.
There’s no problem with that and them taking pictures of other children, as long as it’s for personal use. The school may ask that photos and videos aren’t taken, but they can’t enforce that.
Nor can they do anything if a parent does record a Christmas concert and then posts it on their public Facebook account. Your child’s school will probably say at the start of any performance that images and videos are not to be shared on social media if they include other children, but if they are, there is very little the school can do.
They can contact the parent and ask them to remove the images. If they don’t and it continues to happen, the school can impose a policy that means parents aren’t allowed to take photos or videos. But the school has no power to order a parent to take down an image.
Speak to parents
If you don’t want your child’s image to be shared the best way is probably to pre-empt it happening. If your school has a newsletter, you could ask if you could write a piece about not sharing images and the potential impact for children in care or adoptees. Most parents aren’t aware of the risks sharing may pose to some children and will be happy to comply with the request.
If you have a parents Whatsapp or Facebook group, you could raise it there. You don’t have to refer to your child, just do a general post asking people to respect the privacy of other children and get their parent’s consent before you post anything on social media.
As with most things relating to adoption, it’s about educating and raising awareness. If parents don’t know much about adoption, they won’t know the impact sharing images on social media could have.
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