Briefing 227

March 2018

Use of Social Media Sites by Children’s Social Care Staff

Introduction

Developments in online facilities such as social media sites are fast-changing. This can impact on many aspects of daily life, including in a social care and safeguarding environment. It is important that professionals keep up to date with and harness useful technology, whilst ensuring that this is done in a safe and appropriate manner.

Recent court cases and case reviews have advocated the use of social media checks during assessments and court proceedings. However, this is a developing area and caution must be exercised.

Issues

The increasing use of social media sites brings with it additional considerations.  These include:

  • Confidentiality and consent of service users;
  • The need to process personal data in accordance with data protection principles;
  • Professionals’ own right to privacy and private life;
  • The need for caution and corroboration - social media accounts can be infiltrated / faked. Service-users may have more than one online persona;
  • Appropriate arrangements need to be made for setting up dedicated social media accounts. It is generally not advisable for professionals’ personal accounts to be used.  Employers may wish to set up corporate private profiles with access limited to a small number of staff;
  • Depending on the circumstances, the viewing of service-users’ social media account may constitute overt or covert surveillance requiring appropriate authorisation.

Use of Social Media by Staff in a Personal Capacity

Social media can blur the boundaries between the personal and the professional. Inappropriate social media postings from personal accounts have led to Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) proceedings against professionals.

The Health and Care Professions Council have issued Guidance on Social Media (http://www.hcpc-uk.org/assets/documents/1000553EGuidanceonsocialmedia.pdf), which sets out Top Tips for professionals using social media in a personal capacity, to avoid breaching their professional responsibilities.

Use of Social Media by Staff in a Professional Capacity

The use of social media to trace and gain information on parents has recently been strongly advocated in court cases and serious case reviews. 

However, there are (often complex) legal considerations, and this is not something to be undertaken without due consideration of issues such as consent and the possible need for authorisation of covert surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. 

The Chief Surveillance Commissioner, in a letter to local authorities in April 2017, stated that:

‘These are complex legislative provisions, and without appropriate training and awareness council officers cannot be expected to appreciate and apply them. They may therefore act unlawfully. Ignorance would provide no defence to them personally, nor to the Council for which they were working’.

It is unlikely to be as simple as “taking a quick look on Facebook,” and legal advice must be sought as appropriate.

How can we help?

This is a developing area, and tri.x will provide further updates as the body of case-law develops.

Contact us to find out about how tri.x can help your organisation

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