A: I get this question a lot. It's one that used to stump mie, not only because I didn't know how to answer it but primarily because it never occurred to mie that people would wonder about that particular thing. After nearly 2 years as a foster parent it still throws mie off when I think about it.
No judgement though - I'm happy to answer it. I say - anything that helps people understand that we're normal people doing a thing that more normal people could do, all that better.
I wrote about a similar question before. In fact, "Do the parents know who you are?" was one of my first FPF posts. In it I discussed how we like to partner with the parents whenever we can to help them have a better chance of success and, of course, for the sake of the kiddos.
This post will take a slightly different approach. Clearly. It's called Stalking.
It shouldn't be. Before I go further, though I will quickly admit to what I affectionately call "stalking", I am not ACTUALLY doing anything remotely similar to stalking as in, the crime. Personal privacy is important to mie and therefore I'll give that to others as well. Plus, I don't want to go to jail. So, don't worry. I don't really stalk anyone. But that's what I call it.
It really should be called in-depth investigation. But that's not as fun as "stalking".
Here's the thing - I have someone else's child in my home. I am very well aware that these kiddos have had a mother and father prior to joining our family. I'm very well aware that these mothers and fathers also have families out there. I know that if my children were somehow not in my care or any of my relatives kids were not in their care I would stop at nothing to get them back and I'd be overwhelmingly devastated in missing them in the process.
As a foster parent I'm not necessarily privy to ALL the information in a case, only that which particularly relates to the care of the children. So, I should know their medical history and why they were removed. I don't necessarily need to know the thorough arrest history of the parents to care for the children well. That being said, having foster children in our home make them part of our family and missing a huge piece of their history does affect our family. For example, a child might come to us by way of neglect because of parental drug use. They may not have qualified family to go to. That may be all we "need" to know about their history. However, they may also be gang members. They may not have been able to go to family members because of their gang ties and history of retaliation, murder, etc. Yes, I could care for the kids without knowing all that information but frankly I feel I need to know if there is a very real possibility that the family members may be trying to find ME at any given moment. (P.S., I haven't actually had that scenario, but you get my point). Not to mention, it's helpful to know as much as I can find out about how the parents are doing in working their case. The only updates I actually get on this is when I befriend CASA and the caseworker and they let things slip OR when I attend the infrequent hearings (court, permanency conferences, etc.).
So I have found myself doing in-depth investigations on parents from time-to-time. This often involves Google searches with the names of all family members that I know of. I've found arrest records, charges, court hearings (recent and past), and family cycles of abuse and criminal behavior this way. I also have found that some counties publish their court documents online so that I can see more about the active court case without having to rely on sometimes-unreliable caseworkers. It's also helpful to keep track of cases of kids who've left my home ;)
Parents with good attorneys often will counsel them to be very careful about what they put online, particularly regarding social media. This is frustrating but clearly good advice (I'll give you an example of why in a minute). The result is that I can often see that they have a myspace or Facebook account when I do a search on their name but I can't see anything they might have posted unless I friend them. I am NOT going to friend them. That would be nuts. So, I'm usually left wondering what is on that profile and wishing I could friend them. Sometimes, as with cases that have ended already, I really really want to friend them just to keep encouraging them but I know it wouldn't be a good idea in the long run. I do have a Facebook account based on my anonymous Gmail address that I've used with #3 when they wanted to friend mie so we could keep in touch, but the problem with that is that I think it might expose birth parents from different cases to each other and I'm not all that comfortable with that.
Anywho - I have found that the mother in one of my cases has both open myspace and Facebook profiles. The myspace account is old, which means it gives mie good insight in how she used to live. There are also a lot of pictures on there of when the kids were babies. Some are really cute, others are shameful. Nevertheless, I now have baby pictures of some of my kiddos which comes in handy since I don't know how cases will end until they actually end and by that time it may be nearly impossible to get them baby pictures to go along with them in their journey. (I have no baby pictures of Summer - only those I started taking when she arrived in our home at 9 months). The Facebook account is updated on a regular basis so I get to see how things are going, today. Assuming the case was closed that would be cool for mie to keep up with the kiddos without formally intruding on their privacy (I mean, they are posting it publicly). Assuming the case is open it would help mie to see how the mother is living without her kiddos, how much she writes about missing them (or not), and how much she is or is not working her case plan.
Of course, all of this action could go against the parent too. In this particular case whether the case is an existing one or if it is one of my previous kid's parents there is stuff on both accounts that is highly questionable and certainly goes against the case plan set up. I'm not going into specifics on purpose, but I felt I had no choice to let the state know the information that I had so they could investigate it. I warned them that if the mother knew about their ability to see the information on the account they would probably find it blocked soon and then let them to their business. It really is none of my business what they do with the information.
Sure enough, the once regular updates slowed WAY down, as in none at all. The account is not closed, but all of the "incriminating" posts are no longer there. This tells mie that someone involved in the case must have confronted her on the content that she was posting and she changed it.
Thankfully she didn't eliminate the account altogether or lock it down for friends only. Though if I were her that's what I would do, it would certainly squash my curiosity and ability to do more in-depth investigation in the future.
That doesn't mean I wouldn't try :)
Alright folks - who's willing to admit they stalk too (in the totally legal way, of course)...