London: Social media can help young people living in state care maintain healthy and appropriate birth family relationships and friendships, a study has found. Researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK investigated how young people living in state care can benefit from social media use.
They undertook more than 100 visits to four residential care settings in England over seven months.
During this period, they conducted in-depth observations on how 10 young people routinely used social media in their everyday lives, as well as conducting focus groups and interviews with the young people and their social care professionals.
"Young people in care face harder, faster and steeper transitions into adulthood with fewer resources than their peers," said Dr Simon Hammond, from the University of East Anglia. "Placement instability often leads to young people feeling abandoned and isolated at points in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable," he said.
Having positive online networks helped young people in care gain 'social capital', according to the study published in the British Journal of Social Work.
Digital networks were found to help bond a fragmented social life and act as a bridge beyond the immediate care-home environment.
"Having a strong social support network helps with the physical and psychological isolation reported by young people in care," said Hammond. "We found that emotional support from people outside the care environment was very important. Keeping up to date with friends and, in some cases birth family members, about everyday life events really helped provide a sense of belonging and connectedness," he said.
The study shows how social media platforms can contribute to increased self-esteem and mental well-being, which is particularly helpful for young people in care who frequently report feeling worthless, depressed and isolated.