Saturday, February 24, 2018


A reader asks what to do about mobile phones and internet in the house.

It was only a couple of years back when things were simple; one big rule. No laptops upstairs.

Now that mobile phones are the thing it's got a bit more complicated.  As foster parents we work either for our local authority or our fostering agency. The first thing you do is find out if they have a clear set of rules, and if so find out what their latest policy is, because policies towards foster children and IT move with the times.

Next thing is to find out if the child has any background of positive or negative usage.

Third thing; try to get to know and understand each individual child; their personal strengths and vulnerabilities. Then with all the above information build some guidelines.

If you have wi-fi in the house it's a fantastic control mechanism, especially if the mobile phones are connected.  We used to 'ground' children who crossed lines, it was a fairly effective constraint. But not as effective as switching off the router. 
It's up to each household to find what works best for everyone. Lots of carers I know have a basket by the front door and mobile phones go in the basket wherever anyone comes in. 

There's plenty else to occupy the foster parent's skills on this one!

I'm going to start with the worries, then move onto the Godsends - of which there are plenty; technology is on the whole a fantastic aid to fostering.


1. Children being groomed.

It happens, we see it on the news. Before audio and video links children were more vulnerable than they are now because when it was all forums an adult could easily type that they were 14 years old and there was no way of verifying. In our house, if a child is talking to an internet friend they can see and hear them, so the first line of defence is the child's own intelligence. On top of that the shrewd foster parent can drift around bringing snacks and 'tidying up' and listen in - even sneak a look. All sounds a bit clandestine, but most foster parents I know turn into pretty competent undercover detectives.

2. Children viewing stuff they shouldn't.

This is where parental controls on the devices come in. We've had them on our TV for ten years, they work. We also require our foster children to have parental controls on any devices; it's especially useful with You Tube, who regulate themselves to our satisfaction. Many new foster parents start out in fostering daunted by new technology, but quickly become pretty competent technicians. If you need help with configuring stuff you should ask your social worker, attend training on the subject, or (easiest way) ask any friendly teenager you know...
There are some dodgy computer games out there, but I have a suspicion that the manufacturers have woken up to the fact that there's less profit in a game that parents will eventually ban the child from using, so they construct games that have an element of badness about them but not too bad.

3.Ownership and Expense.

Around the ages of late primary/early secondary every child in the UK starts pestering for their first phone. Children coming into care used to have a familiar (teddy bear etc), now they cling to their phone for comfort, which, in a new house must be wonderful for them. Everything around them is strange, but they have their contacts, their favourite sites and games.
All sorts of issues here though, a fractious one arises when the phone was purchased by the real parent who might demand access to their child via the phone, might even keep topping it up for them. This is one for your social worker, because contact between children in care and their significant others is always tailored to the benefit of the individual child. However it's down to the foster parent to police whatever rules there are. However, as a foster parent I'm happy to be able to say; "Hey, I don't make the rules."
If a foster child reaches mobile phone age whilst in your care there's a bunch of issues. They'll want a prestige phone, and you have to decide contract or pay as you go.  All I can advise is that pay as you go gives you a slightly bigger chance to control usage.
Internet games manufacturers are devious/shrewd. They hook a child's enjoyment for peanuts, then suddenly throw in a purchase they have to make to go to the next level.


A Behaviour Helper

We have ultimate authority over of all the devices in our house, and a theoretical control of their device when they are out and about. We can use access to phones and the net as sanctions in the event of any dispute about behaviour, obedience, curfew observance, language, homework, school attendance. I find that you only have to remove access once, maybe twice, so it's known you mean business, and you have  a powerful helper.

Tracking and Communicating.

If your foster child has a phone you can download an app that tells you to within three feet where the child is. This is an unbelievable plus for all parents especially foster parents. Okay the child is usually resistant, but it's for their own safety and convenience ("I'll come and pick you up from town when you get outside MacDonalds").
Change of plans? Send them a text. Easy. Brilliant.


You can play with the child, admire their gaming achievements, watch their wars and building projects. You can twin your laptop/ipad/phone with the child's, enabling you to monitor things like how many hours they're on, what time they switch off at night, even where they roam. Tricky for the average foster parent to set up, I know. You Tube has loads of tutorials on it, your social worker might be a whizz, or again, ask any friendly teenager.
The day will come when your own device is beating you. What a great moment when you ask your foster child to help. For them it might be the first moment they can assert their impending adulthood, use their carefully accumulated knowledge of the modern world, and help someone.


Don't listen to the doom-mongers; there's stacks of truly fantastic educational stuff, all dressed up as fun. The internet is the greatest window on the world man has ever known; don't close the curtains until it's time for bed!

Blue Sky ran a fantastic training session on staying safe online, one top tip is to go to this website

Common Sense Media


  1. Thanks, great advice and tips :-)

  2. Can you do a post about the first few weeks of a new placement. Do you 'hunker down'or cocoon until the child settles a bit to establish a routine. My agency has suggested we do this, but I'm not sure how it will work practically! Thanks :-)