There are many controversial topics within the Early Years sector, particularly as society and times change at a growing rate. As society is overcome by the growing demand and use of the internet and social media in day to day life; this now poses the question of whether there is a place for social media within the Early Years and the ways in which we as setting’s and businesses use social media as an active business development tool.
For us a setting, we use social media platforms as a means of sharing practice and promoting our business as a whole using both Facebook and Twitter; both of these pages are public with natural, face-on photos of the children engaged in a range of different activities and learning experiences. We have parental consent to share these images on both platforms (and to be used within our blog posts too) and we believe we do so sensitively.
Whilst we are confident in our use of social media and the use of children’s images on the internet as a part of our business, we understand that some practitioners and parents do not share our views and confidence in this and so we have recently embarked upon a small-scale research project to explore this debate further; looking at the pros and cons and how different types of provisions use and view the use of social media within the Early Years Sector.
To obtain fair and un-biased arguments, we have contacted a range of professionals; varying from nurseries, childminders and preschool settings whilst also approaching parents for their views in order to balance the argument and fully explore the countless strong opinions this topic ignites.
Whilst we are advocates for the use of social media in Early Years and feel that our usage is sensitive yet engaging, it’s important to note that good practice is always paramount and we ask our children; “Can I take a photo of that?” , “Could I take your photo?” “Can I take a photo to show ‘xxxx’?” If a child does not want their photo taken then their wishes are respected – this is at the forefront of our practice and not something we overlook.
Naturally, there are data protection issues which must be considered when using and discussing the use of children’s images on social media and we treat these with the upmost importance, and are sensitive in the images we use of the children, and whilst their faces may be visible – their names and identities remain anonymous throughout our social media platforms, and as previously mentioned, parental consent for all uses of children’s images has been obtained and parents understand that these are ‘public’ pages.
Whilst there are many viewpoints on this particular topic and many early years advisors, practitioners and parents alike have exceptionally strong views against the use of social media and children’s images on these platforms, there are also many individuals and settings alike who use Facebook and other social media platforms in a similar way to ourselves to promote their business and share good practice.
Take Andrea from Andrea’s Childcare in Rushden for example; Andrea uses Facebook as her main social media platform and her beautiful and inspiring environment has received over 700 page likes due to the wonderful environment and activities she has created. Andrea decided to use Facebook in this way as it had the largest audience presence. Andrea has 2 Facebook pages for her setting; a public one to share practice and a private page for the parents of the children in her setting. Despite this, Andrea also uses images containing the children’s faces on her public page as parental consent has been gained to use the children’s images in this way.
Similarly, Aoife from Aoife’s Childminding also decided to use both open Twitter and Facebook pages for her setting. Aoife says “I chose these for a number of reasons: the first was to show potential families the scope of activities and care that is provided to both EYFS children and before and after school children. The second reason was to become more accountable to myself – being my own boss, I could become complacent and felt that by creating the pages/accounts, it would ensure that I stayed on top of my planning. It is also an opportunity to network with other childminders and I use it as an aspect of professional development seeing what others are doing and how I can do things better.” Whilst Aoife has public pages, she has opted not to display images of the children’s faces and sometimes photos where the children aren’t featured at all; “They are public for the purpose of attracting new business – although only hands of children and process and product of work are shown in photos. Even with permission, I am wary of putting children’s faces on the internet although I like being able to look at different settings accounts and gain inspiration from them. I just use hands so I have lots of close up pictures of process and product and for example, when we went on a walk to see poppies in our local area at Rembrance Day, I took those photos. I probably prefer posting photos without children in but this is not always possible.”
This leads us into the territory of the uncertainty of the internet and practitioners own concerns and fears in regards to the use of and acceptability of using children’s images in this way on social media, not just by society but how this type of use is viewed by OFSTED and Data Protection laws. A local childminder decided to use Facebook as she often shared pictures of her days out on her personal page (of which many of the setting’s parents were ‘friends’) and so decided to set up a private parent’s page. She says “It is private because, although the parents had no issue with it, I was under the impression that Ofsted don’t ‘like’ photos etc. being shared, also it could be considered a safeguarding issue, and also unsure if the extended ICO will impact on this as well. I think it should be down to the individual and the wishes of the children’s parents, sadly people’s personal choices on so many aspects of their life don’t seem to matter any more. I would not use indiscreet pictures, and hope the ‘closed’ page and the signed agreements afford the children some protection.”
This childminder raises a valid point in regards to concerns around OFSTED and their view on public social media pages featuring children’s images, and for so many practitioners this is a real concern and impacts the decisions they make regarding their social media, photography and publicity. However, it is important to note, ourselves and countless other early years settings have all received “Outstanding” in all areas whilst using public social media pages featuring images of the children, and whilst we cannot speak on behalf of OFSTED, in our experience OFSTED consider whether you have identified the potential risks, gained parental consent and that you are complying with data protection laws.
Another area of controversy and criticism is using children’s images for publicity, and many of our children have featured in publications across the sector, both within the magazines and on the front covers. Some practitioners view this as ‘exploitation’ of the children and deem it un-necessary for these images to be used to promote our business and practice in such publications, but we would argue that these images and circumstances are contextual and ultimately the children have made their own choice whether to take part. On a recent visit from a photographer for Practical PreSchool at least half of our children decided that they didn’t want to be photographed and both ourselves and the photographer accepted their wishes, however, one child in particular was keen to get in front of the camera (as well as showing an interest in seeing the images after too!) and happily posed, asked questions and engaged in the activities.
This is a more extreme example but for us as a setting, photography and the children’s images have been invaluable to the promotion of our business and showcasing the high quality childcare we provide and so taking photos is a natural part of our routine and provision (as images of the children’s day are shared with parents privately via WhatsApp throughout the day.) and this is something the children are not only aware of but are comfortable with too.
The use of images and children’s photographs on social media is essentially the decision of the parents and we treat the decisions and wishes of our parents with the upmost respect, which is why a number of our children do not feature on our social media pages and website. There are differing views from parents about the use of social media in the Early Years. Some parents say;
“The Facebook page is very insightful of the children’s learning and I’m very happy with the way in which you only use my child’s initial. I trust you implicitly and as long as the pictures are appropriate, it’s great to see the children learning and their environment. I have had many comments from friends about how the use of images and explanations are a wonderful expression of how well the children are learning and cared for.”
Whilst other parents say; “I’m not entirely comfortable with facial images of the children on an open social media site, but I have always trusted your judgement over what is/isn’t appropriate.”
Whilst Early Years is a profession, a career and childcare option, it is also important to consider that it is also effectively a business and essentially social media is used as as a business development tool, hence why so many Early Years settings choose to use social media in this way in order to promote their business and showcase the type of services they provide. One nursery setting in Brighton and Hove (who use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) says;
“Facebook is an easy way to communicate with our customers and wider public at the same time, allowing us to share the content that parents are keen to see, allowing for interaction. It also serves to showcase our service to potential customers. Twitter allows us to network with other businesses and make connections with other organisations that share our ethos. The connections we make strengthen our message and brand. Instagram is a good platform to share some of the fantastic visuals created in our environment and these visuals reflect our brand.”
“Our pages are public. Not only to draw customers in, but to share our message with a wider audience. There are alternative ways to communicate sensitive and private information, to use social media would be inappropriate. We use social media to share appropriate content with the public, as a means of celebration and inclusion. We want the world to know about the amazing thing we are doing. We feature children on our social media pages. We celebrate childhood, our business is child centred and everything we do is for and about the children so it only makes sense to include images of the children.We only share images of children with the consent of their parents. Parents enjoy seeing their children on our pages. Sharing the activities and acheivements of the child and their peers is another way to include the family in whats going on.”
However, there are some practitioners who do not use social media at all. Here’s what Beth from Beth’s Childminding had to say:
“Quite frankly I think it has no place for Childminders. I feel there are so many electronic nursery books to put pictures on for parents securely without the worry of social media implications. We can use websites for advertising too. When I did use Twitter I found that I was taking pictures to post and these were capturing the small “perfect” moment of that activity but like all social media posts they didn’t show a true representation. My day was being filled with thoughts of “I must post something to look fun, interesting, capable etc”. When I made the decision to come off social media all the parents I work with (10 families) were positive about it as they knew this would be more of my time spent interacting and fully focused on their children.Basically I feel social media is a great place to show off, make belief, bully and make others feel inadequate but I think it has very few benefits to Childminders.I find I interact and network with other local childminders better without social media as we TALK and meet up. I use WhatsApp to group chat with other Early Years professionals. Coming off social media was also a positive for my teenage daughters who can see that human beings can actually run businesses and function without constantly updating social media.”
Some Early Years Professionals also argue that parental consent is not enough reason to justify using images of children on social media in order to promote your business and what you do.
Early Years Consultant and trainer, Alison Featherbe says;
“It makes me very uneasy from a safeguarding and child protection stance about providers who use full faces of children who attend to promote their provision. Public pages and websites will mean that anyone can visit the site. We know that there is technology available to alter images and people who sadly will do this and share images that have been changed to appeal to people that are sexually attracted to children. So, taking a head from a child and putting it on an abused child’s body to avoid identification. Children can also be traced to a setting that they attend, often the location, day and time the picture was taken can be available. This may be dangerous for some children. We need to all be mindful of the large amount of ‘sharing’ of photos that we as a society currently put on social media. The term ‘sharenting’ has been coined to describe the overuse of social media by parents to share content based on their children. We must remember that children ‘do not give permission’ for the large amount of pictures that are freely available of themselves and in the public domain. This, for me, is my main motivator for raising awareness. These photos will always be ‘out there’ and future generations will find it hard to take these pictures down. We, as professionals, need to educate and model the use of online safety and by choosing to use pictures of children who attend we are saying to parents that it is ok to over share and it’s not. These images also date quickly as children grow and move settings. Pictures of hands, back of head, feet etc are, in my opinion more creative. Using images in this way exploits children that we are supposed to be protecting. It’s not OK to say ‘ we had parental permission’, you are perpetuating the myth that images of our children are safe when in the public domain and they are not. It is very important to have a policy and procedure around social media that is reviewed regularly and developed in light of new information.”
Alison has incredibly strong views on this subject and raises some valid points. Particularly in regards to the sharing of images by the child’s parents; whilst Alison believes that parental consent isn’t enough reason to post photos of children on social media due to the ‘sharenting’ she refers to by parents – however, it is important to note that essentially it is the parent’s decision how images of their child are shared – and they have a right to do so, and so their consent for the use of images of their children is important to us.
We also accept that whilst we as professionals have a duty of care to the children and safeguarding is paramount to us, we currently live in a digital age where almost everything is ‘online’ and so this is the generation that our children will grow up in, whilst many question whether this is ‘right’ or appropriate, this is the way in which the world and society is currently developing and so education, businesses and us as members of society have to grow and develop with these changes, and utilise them as much as we can in a positive manner – we feel by sharing our practice through social media, we are doing exactly that.
In Early Years, we all know how expensive training and CPD opportunities can be, and so by us sharing our practice, and us having access to other settings and professionals who showcase their provision and services in this way enables us to share and receive ‘good practice’ which inspires us to develop our provision and service further in order to benefit the children and their learning and development.
Whilst we understand and respect the concerns that sharing images of children raises, we are also aware that in this digital age, photos of children can be sourced from anywhere and altered and used in an inappropriate manner as a result – contextually the photos that we share are shared for a positive purpose and are not inappropriate/sensitive in any way.
We strongly oppose the idea that sharing images of children as part of our setting and business development is ‘exploitation’ and our parents support this view fully, rest assured in the knowledge that we would not use the images of the children in a way that could be misconstrued and exploited for a sinister purpose and they trust our professional judgement in regards to online safety. One of our parents say;
“I particularly like the way you share awards and developments. This shows you are continually improving and are being recognised for it. This is great for your reputation and reminds any parents who may be less grateful how lucky we are – not that you have parents like that! Obviously our definitions of appropriate are very similar and the use of the children’s images is very important to celebrate the achievements and activities the children do.”
Essentially, this controversial yet prevalent topic is down to personal preference/confidence in the use of social media as a business development tool and means of sharing information. We have explored the potential pitfalls, considered the impact on the children in question, taken into account the views of the parents and also looked at this from a safeguarding perspective too. As a setting, we are confident that we are using social media in an appropriate and sensitive manner, whilst adequately protecting the children in our care, and our parents support and agree with this. Whilst there are obvious potential risks involved in using images of children on social media in any instance (whether it is the parents sharing images or us a setting) there is always a danger that these images may be accessed by the ‘wrong’ people, but is this not the case for any image of children on social media?
We argue that using the children’s images on our social media pages merely documents the work we do, inspires other practitioners and allows the parents and children to recap and review their time with us whilst also promoting ‘good practice.’ This is not exploitation; in today’s society, the fact that there are Instagram accounts for newborn babies to document their earliest days (and many written as ‘them’.) is where the lines of oversharing and exploitation are blurred – what is the purpose of these accounts? Who are they aimed at? What do the children gain from this?
As society, it’s views and usage of social media and Early Years practice and etiquette develops; as will this argument. But, as long as we keep the children and their safety at the forefront of our minds and we use social media within the parameters of laws and legislation as it develops and ensure it has a purpose (be it to promote your setting/business or to inspire good practice) and images are used sensitively then there is no reason why the use of social media within Early Years cannot be a positive experience and tool for everyone involved.
A huge thank you to everyone who took part in our research and contributed to the development of this blog. All other views (unless otherwise stated/referenced) are our own.