A well meaning judge has given social workers the green light to search for missing parents on Facebook so that they can be alerted to care proceedings, but this could open up a raft of problems around parents’ and children’s right to privacy.
In the case, the court was desperately trying to track down a mother who could not be found. It was claimed that she had either left the country or been removed from the UK once her child had been placed with an adopter. When the judge asked both Cafcass and the council in question whether there was a chance the mother could be found through Facebook, the organisations expressed scepticism. They also told the court that they had tried to find the mother but were unable to. Oddly enough, she was found almost immediately on the social media site.
The judge went on to criticise Cafcass, the council and other professionals in the case for what he felt was a ‘total disregard’ for the rules around birth parents being properly notified.
Nevertheless, this new power could lead to parents being hunted down and their privacy potentially breached on Facebook and other social media sites. And although no official rule appears to exist about contacting parents through sites like Facebook, reaching out to parents in this way is currently frowned upon inside the child protection sector.
The judgment is likely to cause confusion and lead to less than ethical developments in care proceedings unless some form of guidance by The President of the Family Division is issued immediately.
We would welcome Justice Munby publishing some guidelines in this area.