Social Media and Devon’s Children’s Centres

Earlier this year our team was approached by our Early Years and Childcare Service/Procurement Team seeking guidance on using social media for Children’s Centres specifically creating Facebook pages/groups for individual centres. I thought it’d be useful to share some of our findings here.

It was agreed that a pilot project would be set up to help understand and resolve any concerns that using social media in this context might raise.

After receiving feedback from parents that they’d like to use Facebook to communicate with their centre it was agreed that the Bideford Bay Children’s Centre would be chosen to pilot using Facebook.

The Facebook page and groups should aim to provide the same standards as the centre:

  • Create an environment of openness, trust and goodwill
  • Help parents feel confident and able to express their views, feelings and concerns
  • Know that their comments will be treated with respect, and will receive an appropriate response

The page would be used as a virtual notice board keeping parents up-to-date with events and key messages from the centre.

Facebook groups would be used to support existing groups such as parent support groups to help keep parents up-to-date between meetings and plan future meetings. It was also suggested that groups could be created to discuss specific issues such as child development  and learning or breast feeding.

Platforms like Facebook open up new and exciting opportunities for services. However, there are a number of challenges to consider:

  • Safeguarding
  • Privacy and Data Protection
  • Account management
  • Training

Ensuring that when using Facebook vulnerable children or families were protected from harm or abuse was the number one priority.

Staff were shown how to alter account settings to provide the most secure environment for parents to access.

Parents would not be able to post to the centre’s wall but they would be able to comment on their posts and in the groups. Staff will be notified by email when any comments are made.

To protect privacy photos taken by parents would not be permitted on the page or in groups.

It was decided that groups based on sensitive topics would not be created as Facebook didn’t offer suitable tools to protect the identity of the members. For example you are able to see who has joined a private group even though you are not a member of it. Creating a secret group was possible but the extra complication of promoting the group to parents and ensuring privacy meant that this was not a viable option.

It was agreed that groups could be created but more sensitive issues would be left to face-to-face discussion.

The next step is to ensure that these measures can be applied and understood on all social networks not only Facebook.

Privacy and Data protection
Groups provide a great way for organisations to communicate with the public and for children’s centres they allow discussion with parents to continue beyond the walls of the centre. However, having open groups present risks of inappropriate information being shared, specifically, details that might reveal private information about parents or their children. It was agreed that when parents joined a group they would be informed about eSafety, privacy settings and the risks of the public domain.

Privacy in social media is a complex issue. Many people are comfortable with different levels openness and adjust their privacy settings to suit. It is important for our children’s centres to understand the needs of the parents that want to engage in this platform whilst protecting their information.

Account management
Facebook allows you to be an administrator of a page without anyone knowing your account is connected to that page. Allowing staff to use their personal accounts to administrate the Children’s Centre page was discussed but it was agreed that the creation of a professional account would be the most appropriate and practical means to manage the page.

A service based Facebook account was set up which allowed them to manage the page, connect with parents and comment in groups.

More work needs to be done on validating the service account, so parents feel that they aren’t just communicating with a generic account. Possible solutions might be signing off messages with initials or printing a list of staff members who manage the account and displaying it in the centre.

The centre’s staff had varying levels of experience with social media and eSafety. Some were regular users of Facebook others had accounts but rarely logged in.

Webinar style training sessions were run at different stages of the process to help bring all the staff up to a standard of knowledge which would allow them to effectively manage their page/groups.

Training involved a run through of account and security settings, the potential of using pages and groups and also their limitations (open, private and secret).

As the staff begin to update the page more frequently, refresher training will need to be provided to help address any new requirements or concerns they have. A resource pack will be created that will summarise lessons learned from this process that will hopefully guide future centres.

The future
A Children’s Centre’s decision to create a Facebook presence or not must depend on whether the centre feels it has an audience to communicate with. In Bideford Bay’s case they had received feedback from parents indicating that they would like to communicate with their centre through Facebook. Other centres may discover that their parents would like to use alternative channels such as Twitter.

The success of a centre’s account depends heavily on the staff managing it effectively and the parents engaging with it. Staff should feel empowered to create content for the pages and find innovative uses for it. They should be given time and support to help build the running of their social media presence into their daily routine.

Safeguarding and privacy must always remain paramount and staff will need to stay aware of potential updates to Facebook and other social networks that may alter default account settings. A recent example was Facebook’s introduction of user timelines which led to some users reporting private content was revealed until they updated their account settings.

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