The foster parents of a four-year-old girl fear she will be bullied because her natural mother, who has drug problems, posted photos of the child on Facebook.

The pictures remain there even though the foster parents took the matter to Appoġġ, the government agency that handles fostering.

The foster parents said the mother should not be able to upload photos of the child online since the girl was under a care order and, therefore, under the care of the State.

Children should not be on social media. You never know who is seeing these photos

“The care order should be more powerful,” the foster father, John*, insisted. “As we all know, children can be cruel and we are worried that, within a few years, she will be bullied by children at school because they’ll figure out who her mother is.

“Besides, children should not be on social media. You never know who is seeing these photos,” he stressed.

A spokeswoman for Appoġġ said that posting photos on Facebook went against the agency’s policy.

“If it comes to the agency’s attention that such photos are posted online, it requests that they are removed. Furthermore, if these directions are not adhered to, a formal letter is issued to those concerned, failing which a legal letter is sent pending prosecution,” the spokeswoman said.

So far, however, the photos are still on Facebook, even though John said that Appoġġ had requested their removal.

He explained that while the photos themselves were not indecent, they drew the link between the child and her mother.

Their fear is that this could lead to bullying.

John and his wife have raised the girl since she was a few weeks old after the State entrusted her in their hands. They are very much aware that fostering is not adoption and they understand the concept that the girl ought to keep in contact with her mother.

However, they cannot accept the fact that the rights of the mother to see her daughter result in distress for the child.

“After a visit to her mother she becomes very distracted and distressed and we have to pick up the pieces,” said John.

He added that foster parents should have the right to take certain decisions in the interest of the children. For example, baptising their foster daughter was a major struggle because, according to law, the mother had to be present – but she failed to turn up several times.

Now the girl will not be able to receive her First Holy Communion unless her mother consents. Also, the family must give two months’ notice before going abroad.

John said these were common problems faced by foster parents and he hoped that amendments in the pipeline would address the issues.

Two months ago the government announced measures that will be introduced under a new proposed law tackling children who live in out-of-home care. These measures, still in their draft stage, include the introduction of permanent fostering.

As things stand today, only temporary foster care exists, with foster carers having to face a review every six months.

Introducing permanent fostering would remove this uncertainty and allow for future planning.

The law also aims to introduce mechanisms to free up children living in care for adoption in cases where all attempts to reunite them with their natural parents failed.

ccalleja@timesofmalta.com

* Names and details have been changed to protect the child’s identity.

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