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This is Elizabeth, Abrazo’s director, with some thoughts on sharenting, adoption, and child exploitation. These are my own opinions, and I’m thinking aloud here, so bear with me, y’all…

Granted, this is hardly an uplifting or inspirational blog topic during National Adoption Awareness Month. (Sorry about that.) Yet maybe the point of adoption awareness should be about pushing us to tackle the tough stuff (and particularly to be more mindful of adoptees’ perspectives), if we’re ever really going to make adoption better?

Exploiting children’s tragedies is wrong, even when intentions are good.

First, the backstory. This week, I happened across a post by a new child abuse organization in town. They clearly want to help. Yet the group’s leader is soliciting Christmas gifts for local child abuse victims, by posting children’s names, and photos online, along with graphic details of their past. Here’s an actual example (although I’m removing the children’s names, for their protection, something this child abuse group failed to do.) This was apparently written and submitted to that organization by these children’s adoptive mom, along with their real names and photos:

“******* (had) neglect and burns all over his face and torso. 12 surgeries later and more to go, I am grateful this little 11-year-old spitfire is in my life, even though he gives me grays everyday, he is a spark of energy, love and light! ***** (was) abandoned at 2 weeks old, fed water from a sink at 3 days old, slept in a prostitution motel, put up for $25k in exchange for a boat, traveled across Texas with no food/water/AC in August by loser dad to make a deal with a drug dealer! ***** (is) another product of meth addicts (like her brothers) but fortunately, the State intervened at 4 days old to come into our home. She is the icing on the cake. By the grace of God, all 3 of our foster/adopted kids have no significant health issues but they all experienced some sort of neglect, trauma and loss.”

I was sickened upon reading this, both by the horrors these kids endured and by the chance that anyone might further exploit their trauma by sharing their names and current photos online with this information. (Never mind that the little girl’s featured picture even shows her in a swimsuit/leotard, or that the Christmas gift donors are being promised the opportunity to also meet the child/ren.) Having worked in child welfare locally for more than 30 years, I know a dangerous violation of children’s privacy when I see one, and this was too alarming to ignore.

Agree to Disagree? Not when children’s privacy is at stake.

So I reached out to the local child abuse group that posted this, begging them to “please, please reconsider posting such personal information about minor child along with their photos and names, because it’s an invasion of their personal privacy, even if their parent approves. Because what’s on the internet has a toxic half-life, and these kids are clearly too young to give informed consent to the public sharing of such lurid detail.” I closed by saying “I know you mean well, but these kids may one day feel such an invasion of privacy cost them far more than the benefit of any Christmas treats.”

(Well!) I’d like to be able to tell you the child abuse group appreciated my gentle counsel, but they didn’t. (Not at all. In fact, their director unfriended me.) I was informed in writing that “sharing their story makes a substantial difference in the lives of other children, other adults, and helps take away the stigma that adopted and foster children see.” She went on to say this adoptive mother “shared this information publicly on a platform of 3k people before we did” and that her child abuse group intends to likewise share the names and pictures of “a total of 186 children that have experienced abuse, trauma, neglect and loss, and every single one of their stories will be posted, because we are opening the eyes of Bexar County. We just see things differently than you do.”

Indeed. Indeed, they do. And therein lies the problem. Not just because I see things differently, but because any of these kids might, someday. The primary concern here should be what all these children need most, which is certainly to never be further victimized– not by anyone, however good or pure their intentions might be.

The Takeaway on Sharenting, for Adoption Folk & All Others

Here’s the thing: privacy standards have evolved sharply, since the rise of social media, and we’re all guilty of learning as we go. (I get that, both as a parent and as a child welfare professional.) Abrazo has also learned to take a conservative approach in posting anything that identifies our adoptees and/or birthsiblings by name, unless the minor and his/her parents give informed consent in advance. And even then, we recognize our own responsibility to protect those impacted by adoption from oversharing information that they may one day wish they’d kept private.

Parents are used to speaking for and about their kids (adopted or not), but sharenting is about TMI– the overuse of social media to share content about one’s children. And when it comes to adoptees, it’s imperative for both birthparents and adoptive parents to respect their child’s right to privacy.

But don’t just take my word for it. Please, everyone, read this: Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media, from the Emory Law Journal. (Then, if your child’s life has been impacted by adoption, please read this, too: Treating Adopted Children as Commodities, from the Donaldson Adoption Institute.)

Nobody (not parents, adoption professionals nor anybody else) should post nor publicize the personal details of any adoptee’s adoption in a manner that enables others to identify them by the story that only belongs to them. It doesn’t matter if the parents think it’s “cute” or compelling, or if it helps them feel they saved that child from ruin. It doesn’t matter if a child abuse organization feels it helps their cause, or if an adoption agency sees it as effective marketing. It’s wrong, because it potentially veers into the realm of child exploitation, which must be where we all draw the line.

Sharenting, adoption and child exploitation are all ripe for abuse, and children need to be protected– even, sometimes, from those who may think they have only the best of intentions.

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