Kris’ Corner: Online Support Groups

by Andra Martinez

So, last time I discussed support through in-person groups; and as promised, I’d like to now talk about online support groups.

These are the groups that are only ever online. They typically have moderators who can approve posts, and/or remove posts which do not fit within the group’s membership guidelines. They are on social media or some sort of online forum.

Many times you have to apply to join to ensure that you’re willing to comply with the membership rules and to protect the privacy of the group. (Makes total sense when dealing with sensitive topics and the welfare of other people’s children.)

These groups can be small, but the ones I have encountered and am a part of have hundreds, if not thousands, of members.

And from personal experience, I think it’s hard to find your own personal tribe when there are so many people in the group.

But the online groups definitely have their place in the support network; even though they may not be the easiest way to find others with whom you feel a deep personal connection or find close-knit, one-on-one support. They are great for taking polls, asking questions, or getting input (you can get a lot of varying responses, and sometimes some outliers you’d never expect, since the groups are so large and varied),

And these groups are always available. There are no “hours” to the

Internet…so you can read, search and post on the page at any hour of the day. Not every live person would be so accepting of a 2am question about the formula you use or how to handle a situation with a child’s biological parents. Or any other non-urgent question you may have in the middle of the night.

Another benefit to online support is that you can access them from remote locations. Maybe you live way out of town without a neighbor in sight; maybe in the winter you can’t leave for days at a time because of the snow and ice. But you still need support on your foster care journey and online groups would definitely be there for you.

Lastly, these groups can offer you anonymity. Sometimes advice is taken more easily from strangers. Or you may have questions but don’t necessarily want to ask the people you know. Maybe the question is awkward or uncomfortable.…so it’s hard to look someone in the eye and ask; it’s often much easier to throw it out there into “space” to a bunch of people you don’t know.

I also find it helpful in an online setting to see what others are talking and asking about. At times, the information may seem superfluous in the moment, but more often than not, I find that I am tapping into that resource mentioned or telling another foster parent about it somewhere down the line. So as an idea resource/idea-share, I think the online groups are fantastic. Simply by virtue of their large numbers, you can get tons of valuable resource recommendations.

In addition, I love these groups for their book/movie/and blog recommendations (as an aside, I’ll be doing a post here soon with my personal recommendations on such things, for those of you who would like to read more on some of the things I’ve touched upon, or to collect more tools for your foster care toolbox, as you prepare to jump in.)

Now there are definite drawbacks to online groups (as with all things). You may be misunderstood, because you can only write your thoughts and questions. I have to say that SO many people in today’s world are misunderstood because of poor wording in emails, posts and texts. So that’s definitely a possibility, especially when communicating with people who do not know you at all in real life, and know what you might mean; instead of how a post is perceived.

Another possibility is that the anonymity that seems helpful can also be hurtful; people don’t always hesitate to cut someone down because they DON’T know her. It allows for inappropriate, disrespectful, hurtful or hateful comments…and it doesn’t take a genius to understand that such behavior makes a support group very unsupportive.

So my overall advice (which can also apply to in-person groups) is this: try an online support group for a few weeks, and if it doesn’t click with you, don’t hesitate to walk away or try a different one. Not every group is perfect for everybody so there is no shame in “breaking up” with a group and moving on.

Sincerely,

Kris