"Can I become friends with my sponsored child on Facebook?" is one of the most common questions we receive, but the answer isn’t quite as simple as you’d think.

I was surrounded by 50 kids all laughing, jumping, singing and dancing. It was my first visit to a Compassion centre in Indonesia and every child wanted a selfie with the Aussie sponsors! All of a sudden it seemed the term ‘selfie’ had become an internationally recognised phrase, along with “add me on Facey!” At first, I didn’t think much of it, but on the bus ride back to the hotel, the thought dawned on me. “Add me on Facey? Is that a thing now?” Which led me to the question.

What should I do if my sponsored child adds me on Facebook?

Globally, we are more connected through the internet and social media than ever before. I only have to remember the days of sitting in my dark garage in Newcastle surrounded by empty chip packets, crushed Coke cans and the faint smell of mould, playing Halo 3 against a kid in Singapore (who was absolutely crushing me, just quietly), to know that technology has rapidly advanced. In many developing countries, accessing the internet is as simple as visiting a cheap internet café or purchasing an inexpensive mobile phone and a pay-as-you-go data plan.

Learn more about sponsored children’s access to technology here.

For us as sponsors, this advancement brings a new scenario: the possibility of a sponsored child adding us on social media. While children in Compassion’s programs are told not to add their sponsors as friends on social media [in order to protect your privacy], they are naturally very curious about you. Despite our staff’s efforts, some children still click the ‘add’ button. If that happens, here’s what you should know.

Importantly, we don’t recommend adding or accepting a friend request from your sponsored child. Doing so could potentially put you or your sponsored child at risk of exploitation.

Why shouldn’t I add my sponsored child on Facebook?

There are key reasons why we discourage this type of interaction. Communicating through social media could put your personal details or communication in the hands of other people. Firstly, the Facebook friend request may not have been initiated by your sponsored child. Friends and family connected with your sponsored child could use their profile to interact with you. This has the potential to place you in an awkward position if they take advantage of your generosity by asking for additional funds or other favours. Without the safety net of communicating through Compassion, it is difficult to know whether or not these requests are genuine or, if they are, if what is requested could do more harm than good.

There could also be cultural differences or language barriers that may offend or confuse you or your sponsored child, despite everyone’s best intentions.

Having an online profile could also put your child’s safety at risk. Social media gives additional vulnerability to young children who don’t have the knowledge to put boundaries in place when interacting with people on the internet. They might take people at their word or offer up information which could potentially place them in dangerous positions.

If your sponsored child does contact you on social media, please let us know. Our staff members in your child's country can gently remind them of the appropriate methods of contact with their sponsors.

What if I’ve already added my sponsored child as a friend on social media?

You might already be friends with your sponsored child on Facebook or have read stories about sponsors building great relationships after connecting on social media. Reading this blog might have be thinking, ‘I like what I’ve got going! I’m enjoying it and it’s an easy way for me to connect with my sponsored child.’ Well, my friend, we feel it’s our responsibility to let you know of the potential risks you might not have been aware of previously.

Teacher and student at computer Tanzania

My revelation!

Clicking that ‘Accept Friend Request’ button may seem like it will make communicating with your sponsored child a whole lot simpler. And truthfully, it could. But it can also come at the expense of you and your sponsored child’s safety: something we don’t take lightly.

In the age of technology, writing letters with pen and paper or even online through our recently updated My Account letter writing tool may seem old fashioned. But it’s also the safest and most effective way to build your relationship with your sponsored child.

Compassion Australia always has children’s safety and protection at the heart of what we do. We encourage more than anything that beautiful relationship between sponsor and child, and for it to be done well.

Thanks for your understanding. Now go and add me on Facey. Just kidding!

Words by Michael Cauchi

Photos by Craig Thompson and Keely Scott