If you use social media, which could include WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram or others to stay in touch with young women and girls, put safety first in your youth work. We want to trust everyone around us, but it is always better to be prudent.
Once something is online it is there forever. This is an important lesson for young women and girls to learn for their safety, and to prevent future embarrassment. Part of this lesson is ensuring that they consent to any photos your youth project uses of them and that you never use their full names or information that could identify where they live or go to school. If they say no – respect this. We cannot expect them to understand their rights on the internet if we don’t respect them ourselves. [For a reminder look back at Toolkit 3: USING SOCIAL MEDIA FOR YOUR AFRICAN YOUTH CLUB]
Guidelines for Online Contact
It’s best practice not to add girls or young women you work with as friends on social media, for several reasons but mainly because you aren’t their friend! It may well be that once a girl becomes an adult, and you have things in common, you choose to remain friends, but you need to keep boundaries when she is a minor or a mentee. You may well share very personal things on your social media, or simply things that aren’t appropriate for her to know. If she is offended that you won’t be her friend on social media, just say that it is against the rules. Consider making your Instagram page ‘private’ to maintain your privacy.
Limit Contact to What is Necessary
It makes sense to have guidelines for youth workers about what they can and cannot share online. You may use Whatsapp to arrange mentoring appointments, for example, or to talk when young women cannot physically attend the youth club. In this instance, make sure that the girl and her parents, if she is a minor, have given permission for you to have her number and be in contact via phone. It may be more appropriate for you to be in contact with the parents, and to speak to the girl on her parent’s phones, so you do not have her own number.
Make sure that this is covered by your safeguarding policy, and that girls know they can end contact via Whatsapp if they choose to. Youth workers should delete a girl’s number when the girls leave the programme unless the girl or her parents have indicated otherwise.