Question of the week: What precautions should we take when publishing pictures of children in our ministries– especially kids of divorce?


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The other day, I was on a children’s ministry Facebook group. This is a closed group where children’s ministers discuss … children’s ministry things.

The discussion was about publishing pictures of kids in different church activities on social media. As I read all of the ideas about how to obtain permission and handle things, it was clear that hardly anyone was discussing how the child of divorce factored into this issue.

As I read through the posts, I realized that many people didn’t have the child of divorce on their radar. While I don’t want to encourage anyone to single out children whose parents are divorcing, it is important to understand some issues regarding children of divorce.

For instance, when obtaining permission to use photographs on church websites, some children’s ministers require permission from the parents. They call it a “photography release.” That sounds harmless enough—the parents don’t care if their kid’s picture is on Facebook or the church’s website, so they check this box and sign the release at the bottom of the page.

Photography release form

The problem could be that the parent who signs the photography release form is not the custodial parent. He brings the child to church classes every other week and to various church activities. In some states (you’ll need to check your state’s child custody laws), a noncustodial parent does not have the legal right to sign permission for the child’s picture to be used. In most states, in a co-parenting or a joint-custody situation, then yes, both parents have the same rights and can grant permission to post the child’s picture.

Opt-out clause

Others provide an opt-out clause where parents can check a box to let the church staff know they don’t want their children’s picture used for anything. The problem with the opt-out clause is the stressed, hassled single parent may not see it. It might not get checked, and you will think it’s okay to use this child’s pictures. Always connect with the parent before assuming everything is okay.

Group pictures

Another issue is how to handle group pictures of, say, vacation Bible school or a special children’s choir presentation.

One way to handle a situation like this is to ask the parent who doesn’t want his child in pictures to provide a special hat or scarf the child can wear. When the kid wearing it shows up in a picture, blur out the child’s face and anything else that could possibly identify that child, such as a special piece of clothing (if needed or requested).

Consequences of not paying attention to the issue of pictures

You may be wondering why you should bother giving so much attention to a child’s picture being seen. In some situations, battered women don’t want their abusers to find them. They don’t want their children exposed to the stalking that might take place at your church. And you don’t want other children’s safety to be at risk either.

Other single parents worry about abusers or ex-spouses trying to kidnap their children. These stalkers may be looking at all the churches in your area trying to find their child.

In some rare divorce cases, pictures posted online can be used in child custody hearings. Although to those in children’s ministry it might seem unreasonable that a picture could sway a judge’s decision about child custody, it is a possibility. This is especially true if the other parent is a non-Christian or of a different persuasion than the parent attending your church.

What to do and not do

  • Talk to your church’s attorney about this issue. Posting pictures on social media for the general population is relatively new for many churches. Guidelines and laws are just now being developed to protect all children.[1]
  • If you do post pictures, do not tag the parent or the child.
  • Be very cautious when taking pictures in a classroom or group situation. Try to get the backs of the children involved in the activity, so the general public can’t identify them.

Permission to use pictures

One simple way to avoid problems is to ask for permission when you want to use a picture or a video. Have the parent sign a release form for that particular event. Make sure you talk to the parent who has legal custody.

Be aware that two states are working on laws that would make it illegal for anyone other than a parent to post a photograph of a minor on Facebook (The Liability of Posting Photos on Facebook Without Permission). New rules and guidelines are constantly emerging in our ever-evolving online world, and it is best to always rule on the side of caution.

One more caution

In our area with military families whose parents are deployed overseas, we have to be very cautious with what we post online. When my own daughter was deployed to Afghanistan, that was one of the things our family was cautioned about. The entire time she was over there, we didn’t post pictures or even say any of the kid’s names online on any social media. Many single parents are serving overseas while the child may live with grandparents or the noncustodial parent. Please be careful with our military kids.

[1] The only current guidelines I know of are COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). This is set up for commercial sites. Nonprofits and churches do not have to follow these guidelines. However, these rules can be looked at as good guidelines and best practices for churches to follow.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on September8,2014

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4 thoughts on “Question of the week: What precautions should we take when publishing pictures of children in our ministries– especially kids of divorce?

  1. One of the safeguards we use, in addition to those already mentioned, is that we commit to not identifying any child by name in our posted photographs. If a child is named in the comments, then the photo or the comment will be removed from the closed group. This is also true of our bulletin boards and video monitors within the church. It’s part of our Safe Sanctuary Policy.

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