The other day, I received a call from Sandy in New York. She was ecstatic because the girl she sponsored, Erica, had asked to be her friend on Facebook and wanted to know if she could correspond with her child through Facebook instead of writing letters. After all, it would be so much more convenient for her.
Sigh. These conversations are always difficult for me. I would have loved to have told her, “Yes, go for it!” but I couldn’t. You shouldn’t communicate directly with the child or youth you sponsor outside of the realm of Compassion.
In fact, before children are registered in our programs, they and their caregivers agree to our communication guidelines: No contact outside of Compassion.
Why, you ask? Wouldn’t it save money? Wouldn’t it save time?
It probably would, but it could also come at the expense of you and the child’s safety, and this type of communication places the child, family and church partner staff in a difficult situation.
It’s not uncommon for someone who knows a child who is sponsored to create an account on a social networking site and pretend to be the child, to contact the sponsor and ask for money, and to threaten the child’s well-being if money isn’t provided.
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We cannot protect you or the child you sponsor if we are not involved in the correspondence between the two of you. We also have a responsibility to protect the children from sponsors who don’t have the children’s best interest in mind.
Without being the center of the correspondence process, we also cannot ensure that you don’t inadvertently write something inappropriate or offensive to the child – cross-cultural sensitivities seem to appear out of nowhere, even out of good intentions.
While it may seem easier and more cost-efficient for us to allow contact through social networking sites, we don’t allow it at this time because we want to be sure it’s done well, done right and done with the best interests of the children in mind.
So, I asked Sandy to delete the friend request and to not respond to it.
I also sent an e-mail to my co-worker Jill. In situations like this, Jill contacts the country office, which works with the Child Development Center staff to remind the student of our guidelines regarding direct contact with sponsors. The center staff also makes sure it was indeed the student who initiated the contact.
If you are contacted by the child or youth you sponsor outside of Compassion’s portals (e.g., by phone, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), please don’t respond, even to say, “I’m sorry but I can’t talk with you in this manner.” And please let us know about the contact.
If it happens in Facebook or Twitter, please use the site’s “block” feature to block the person from asking you to be their friend. I know this may sound harsh, but please try to imagine what could happen if these guidelines weren’t in place.
Thanks so much for your willingness to respect our communication policies. I know it’s hard and not what you’d prefer to do.
Get the answers to more of your communication questions with our Letter-Writing FAQ.
UPDATE: Since the publication of this blog post, we have implemented a fully digital letter-writing process. So your communications with the special kiddo you’re investing in can happen in weeks instead of months!