Safeguarding practitioners recognise that many of the risks young people may encounter online are also serious and complex safeguarding issues.
Dangers that young people may experience online include cyber bullying, live streaming, child sexual exploitation, online grooming, recruitment into county lines, radicalisation, extortion and more. Educators cannot limit exposure to the risks that the online world brings. But they can keep an eye out for the indicators that something might be going on in a student’s life that means they need some extra support.
‘Together for a better internet’
This year’s Safer Internet Day theme underlines the involvement needed by safeguarding teams. School staff and other professionals working with children need to create effective teams around children to protect them from risk, both in the real world and the virtual one.
Safeguarding policies, strategies and training need to underpin efficient systems to ensure the accurate and timely reporting, recording and management of safeguarding concerns.
The lockdowns and social distancing measures introduced in response to COVID-19 have left children and young people isolated from the support offered by friends, family and school. In moments of boredom or loneliness, many young people have vastly increased the amount of time they’ve spent online. This has produced what the NSPCC’s ‘How Safe Are Our Children’ report describes as a ‘perfect storm for online groomers’. The scale and extent of online abuse during this pandemic may not yet be realised but it is likely that perpetrators will take advantage of extra screen time to target vulnerable children.
Approximately 83% of children are now spending more time online, making them much more vulnerable to online sexual exploitation, more exposed to violent or harmful content and at greater risk of cyber-bullying. The UK National Crime Agency estimate that around 300,000 individuals in the UK currently present a viable sexual threat to children online and of course these dangerous offenders are likely to be spending much more time online themselves and actively targeting vulnerable children during this period.
Most sites have age restrictions in place but it is widely recognised that these policies aren’t enough to protect young users. Social media firms and other digital organisations must review their systems and adopt a duty of care approach to keeping their youngest users safe.
Real world safeguarding
It is absolutely paramount that school staff receive regular and up-to-date training and information around current online risks so that they can support their learners.
Data from digital safeguarding systems can allow a school to identify specific safeguarding issues and target these curriculum, PSHE lessons and school assemblies towards a specific topic, allowing students an opportunity to learn about risks and to identify the correct way to report incidents and find support. Data provided by these systems can also flag up staff training requirements.
While schools are operating on-site, many use safeguarding monitoring systems to identify and flag search queries entered by students. This can identify pupils who need extra support. Where this information can be instantly shared to a student’s safeguarding chronology it helps to give the safeguarding team a well-rounded view of the issues faced by a pupil both on and offline.
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Mike Glanville is Chief Safeguarding Officer for One Team Logic who make MyConcern Safeguarding Software