Podcast: enhancing online safety for children

Last updated: 02 Sep 2019 Topics: Podcast Type: Podcast
Overview

Do you have online safety measures in place to protect children and young people?

We are releasing a series of episodes that explore best practices for safeguarding children and young people in the voluntary and community sector as part of a partnership led by NCVO, funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the National Lottery Fund within the Safeguarding Training Fund programme. 

This episode focuses on how to enhance online safety for children and young people in your group or organisation and how to deal with any online issues that might arise. Find out more about:

  • how to run online services safely and manage an online presence effectively 
  • adopting professional and personal life boundaries online, particularly with social media and email account
  • the impact of bullying and how to prevent it online and respond appropriately
  • who organisations can go to for resources, guidelines, templates and support
  • what children and young people tell Childline about keeping safe online.

This resource was supported by:

DDCMS and Community Fund logo


Meet your host

Chris Cloke was the Head of Safeguarding in Communities at the NSPCC for over thirty years.  He has a huge wealth of experience and knowledge in safeguarding, particularly within the voluntary and community sector where he has been a trustee and advisor to several voluntary groups. He has been a member of and worked closely with a number of local safeguarding children boards and was chair of the Anti-Bullying Alliance for many years.

About the speaker

Gawain Griffiths is a Website Supervisor for the NSPCC and focuses on content development on the Childline website. Gawain has worked at the NSPCC for nine years and has developed a wide range of online resources to help keep children and young people safe in the online and offline world.


NSPCC Learning podcast

Our podcast series covers a range of child protection issues to inform, create debate and tell you about the work that we do to keep children safe. The child's voice is at the heart of every episode and what they tell us informs all of the work that we do. 

There's a new NSPCC Learning episode every fortnight. You can subscribe to the podcast through Audioboom or sign up to CASPAR to hear when new topics are released.

Transcript

Podcast transcript 

Introduction: 
Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to hopefully inform, create debate and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child’s voice and how what they tell us informs the work we do.

Ali:
Hi and welcome to the latest NSPCC Learning podcast. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been running a series of programmes related to safeguarding in the volunteering community sector or VCS for short.

The podcast you’re about to listen to is the fourth in the series. It explores how to keep children safe online and the positive role the VCS can play in this.

We sat down and had a chat with Gawain Griffiths who is one of Childline’s Website Supervisors. Gawain talked about why organisations should adopt professional boundaries online, the responsibilities that VCS groups have in providing clear guidelines and gives advice on how to harness the online world positively. And finally, Gawain talks about the voice of the child and what children and young people tell Childline about keeping safe online.

Gawain began by saying how volunteering and community organisations can help keep children safe online.

Gawain:
When people think about keeping safe online, they think of this kind of wide problem and there are a lot of dangers online. It ranges on a whole host of things from what are more day-to-day things like online bullying, sexting, through to things that can be quite scary and quite massive like radicalisation through to grooming and child sexual exploitation but what people need to remember is that while that is a massive area, online safety is still just safety and actually, safeguarding doesn’t change when it goes online.

So, it’s when you’re thinking about how to keep children and young people safe online, you should really just be thinking actually, how are you going to keep children and young people safe?

Chris:
And do you think that’s something which voluntary and community groups are aware of?

Gawain:
I think it’s very mixed and I think there are some groups who are very, very aware and some who maybe are slightly intimidated by the area or maybe don’t see quite actually that there is a connect in everything that’s going on.

Chris:
How do you think volunteering community organisations can ensure that their only use of online communication demonstrates good safeguarding practice?

Gawain:
It’s a really tricky one because it’s a real balance between people’s right to actually have an online presence but also their own connection to whatever voluntary organisation they are and it’s particularly difficult when you’re looking at the difference between staff and volunteers because volunteers obviously should and do have a lot more freedom about what they can and can’t do online.

The watch word for me for any organisation is boundaries and actually helping people to understand professional boundaries between their personal life and the work they’re doing with the voluntary organisation, so and that can range from what they talk about online.

So if they have particular political opinions, if they like to share particular stuff online, actually understanding whether or not that’s appropriate to do on a page where they’re also talking about having volunteers for this organisation or worked for an organisation.

A lot of that can also come down to privacy settings and helping your staff and volunteers to understand what people can and can’t see of their presence online and this isn't always as simple as people think it is. On Facebook, you could lock everything down quite happily but then actually, say for example, you work in a voluntary organisation, you work in Guides or Scouts and you happen to be friends with one of the parents who has a child who’s also on their Facebook. What they can see on your Facebook actually may be much more because they’re considered to be a friend of a friend.

So it’s very easy for that boundary to suddenly get a little bit blurry and that’s also where it’s important to have clear guidelines for all of your staff and volunteers on what they should and shouldn’t do, should a young person
contact them or should somebody they’re working with contact them via their personal social media. And it’s very important that it’s not just a policy that is a training, that it’s that people have an understanding of what they should and shouldn’t do and that they understand why and I think it’s a lot of people… it’s because people are very well meaning and people do have the best intentions but actually if you have someone who contacts you on your personal social media, it can be the same as having a young person pop round to your house.

You’ve still got the same kind of concerns and it can still raise the same kind of concerns if then something goes wrong down the line.

Chris:
That’s a good example, you know, which you sight from the Scouts and the Guides and what you’ve highlighted there is the importance of kind of raising awareness and training and I guess it will also apply to very simple things about use of personal mobile phones and numbers?

Gawain:
Exactly and it’s really difficult with smaller organisations especially because you don’t necessarily have a large number of mobiles that you can just hand out to everybody but it’s when you’re giving your personal mobile number, you’re giving someone access to contact you 24 hours a day and it’s really important for these organisations to be clear about if you can give a personal mobile number and if you do, when you can and can’t contact somebody and also, what you need to do if somebody does contact you.

Do you need to record that? Do you need to tell somebody? Especially if somebody then is going to send you something and disclose or start talking to you about something very sensitive.

Chris:
So those reporting procedures, reporting incidents in terms of what has happened and how it’s behaved are very important?

Gawain:
Absolutely and making sure that people again know and understand exactly what to do. So that it’s not just that it’s written in a document somewhere, that’s stored in a filing cabinet that nobody’s ever seen because if somebody is then messaged at 11 o'clock at night, they need to know what to do and they need to feel confident about what to do because otherwise they’re just left panicking. It’s not fair on that person, it’s not fair on the young person.

Chris:
The next question I think we’ve touched on, but how can VCS organisations - voluntary and community groups - run online services safely, for example, online advice and networking services, mentoring platforms etcetera and what are the responsibilities of these groups for dealing with issues that arise online?

Gawain:
I think before any organisation decides to set up an online group, the thing they need to understand is actually, it’s not a small undertaking.

It takes a lot of thought and a lot of preparation that needs to be done before the group even starts and the thing to think about is if you start a group and something happens that you’re not prepared for, that can be really difficult
to manage and can then lead to a lot of problems. It can leave young people at risk. Initially for any organisation the most practical question is, where are you going to set this up?

You think about, are you going to set it up on a social media or are you setting up a different type of website and it usually ends up social media sites.

The thing to think about there is around privacy, where is that, where is anykind of data posted being held, who has rights to that, who has access to it, and what will you do if you need to then access that later on, how are you
storing that?

After that, you then come across a lot of the same kind of thoughts that you will need to have for a face-to-face group and actually with an online group, it’s important to think of it as a face-to-face group with all of the things that you would need.

For the young people attending you would need to set ground rules, you would need to have clear guidelines of how people can and can’t behave in that group and then you have more kind of online-based questions, so who can join the group, who can’t join the group. Is the group completely private? What can people see about each other in that group?

So, for example, if you were to set even a private group on Facebook, people can then potentially see other people’s Facebook profiles. They can then friend each other and actually are they going to start talking to each other outside of that online space?

Are you okay with that? Have you set rules around that? What would you do if something goes wrong in that situation? And also then making sure you test any of this as well, so you’ve set up all these processes and you’ve set up this group, get someone who’s not been involved with it to try and join the group or try and find the group just to see if this group is actually private? Is it fine? Has what you set up worked?

As well as that, within Childline obviously, we have a very anonymous model. Within our message boards it’s really important for us that young people who post there are able to stay anonymous.

Now, one of the difficulties is that over time as people share more and more information about themselves, one piece on its own isn't that identifiable - ten, twelve pieces is - and it’s about making sure that you have oversight of that and making sure that you understand what can build up over time.

Chris:
Clearly for children and young people, online services is part of their lives and it’s something you know which is embedded in their lives. So it’s something that voluntary and community groups need to consider if they want to reach them and from what you are saying, it’s possible for voluntary and community groups to provide online  services but it requires a lot of very careful thought, careful planning, testing and monitoring.

Gawain:
Absolutely and I think it’s important to remember that these groups can be incredibly beneficial to young people because young people do like the online space and they do use it to get support and it’s a great way for them to get support.

Chris:
Absolutely and it’s making sure that they can access that information in a way that is sensitive to their needs and otherwise might not come to light.

Gawain:
Yeah, and it’s very transparent, so that they understand actually how you’re working and how this page works and how the group works.

Chris:
Can you tell us a little bit about what voluntary and community organisations need to think about in terms of their own use of social media, in terms of email accounts and how staff use them?

Gawain:
It’s important for people to understand the divide between their personal email and social accounts and their work email and social accounts and what each of them are for.

It can be quite tempting, especially with something like a work email, if you’re looking at it all the time to actually start using it as your main email address. You start to sign up to different shopping sites, it’s where you get all your notifications from. It just makes life easier but the flip side to that is then, it starts making it messier.

You will start to get more spam, you start to get more emails that just have nothing to do with what you should be doing when you’re looking at that email and it can get confusing, it can lead to things being missed.

It can also on the worse end of the spectrum start to make you behave differently on that account because if you’re emailing friends or you’re emailing people and talking in the way that you wouldn’t normally talk to children and young people, suddenly you then risk confusing that, confusing that boundary, confusing it and that’s especially the case on social because social media sites and social media accounts in particular will use algorithms to find out who you know and who you talk to. And if you start to mix up your work relationships and your personal relationships, especially with young people, it starts to mix up actually for these algorithms who they’re going to recommend to you, who you may end up talking to and who may end up finding you.

Chris:
So voluntary and community groups need to really demonstrate good practice and need to be mindful of how their staff are using social media in general but then they also need to be aware of what the impact is on the children and young people they’re working with. What, if anything, should voluntary and community groups be saying to their staff and to volunteers about their online lives outside of work?

Gawain:
It’s a real balancing act for voluntary and community organisations especially with volunteers because people do have a right to a personal life and people do have a right to having personal accounts outside of the work that they’re doing and I think one of the most important parts around that is helping people understand where the divide is.

So where their personal account ends and where their professional one begins and helping them to know that anything they do share online, if they’re relating it to the organisation, it then can be seen as the organisation saying it. So there’s initially that around that principle but it’s also practical advice as well, explaining to people and giving them information on how to protect their digital footprint which is basically anything they leave, leaving themselves online and thinking about actually this photo you posted of yourself six years ago.

That’s still there and people can still search that and it’s still relatively easily seen and actually explaining how to set up their privacy controls and how to understand what people can and can’t see of them online.

Chris:
So the voluntary and community group will have a responsibility to make sure that their staff know about their digital footprint and what impact that might have or how that might affect their relationship with the young people
they’re working with?

Gawain:
Absolutely and a lot of organisations will have stories within this… Young people are curious and they will Google you and it’s as soon as you start to work with a young person, they’ll want to know more about you, so they’ll search for you and they’ll try and find things out about you and that’s okay because actually that’s how they work and the thing for them to think about is actually what will they find and do you want them to see that?

Chris:
And so, I guess transparency is an important part in all of this?

Gawain:
Absolutely.

Chris:
I think one of the kind of key issues in terms of online safety is online bullying. How can a voluntary and community organisation help to prevent and respond effectively to online bullying or harassment amongst children and young
people?

Gawain:
This is another one of those ones where you don’t want to use online because it’s not cyber bullying, it’s not online bullying, it’s bullying and when you think about it that way, it becomes much clearer. For a voluntary organisation, it’s much like a school and one of the best ways to have it is, especially if you’re working with groups of young people is to have an anti-bullying policy and that should cover off what the organisation does and says in different situations around bullying, how they’ll support somebody who is bullying someone else or who is being bullied and what they consider to be bullying. Depending on the size of your organisation you may already have one, if not, places like NSPCC Learning have templates that you can use to help put this together.

When you’re thinking about online bullying, it’s important to think about the effects it can have on a young person. So where you used to have kind of the old style of bullying, it would be you’d go somewhere and you’d be bullied but then you can go home and you can get away from it.

With online bullying it’s much more voracious. It will follow you no matter where you go and even if you turn your device off, you know it’s happening and you start to worry about who can see it, what’s going on, what people are saying and it is just constantly with you.

Chris:
And I expect you hear a lot about bullying at Childline and online bullying, what is the sort of impact the bullying has on children and young people?

Gawain:
It’s one of the biggest things that young people come to us about and it can be absolutely all consuming. We have young people who are scared to look online, scared to go into school, scared to go places because it’s going on. It has a huge impact on their self-esteem and how they see themselves. In the worst cases, we’ve seen young people who have started to self-harm or even feel suicidal because of what’s going on.

Chris:
So the voluntary and community groups that are working with children and young people need to be very mindful of the impact of bullying, what sort of things do they need to put in place?

Gawain:
Firstly, they need to have a clear policy of how they’ll respond to a young person if they are being bullied. So that’s initially making sure that everyone working there understands how to support a young person. That can include  what they need to ask in terms of getting evidence, to emotionally support the young person, have that conversation with them, is really important but can sometimes be forgotten. It’s also then giving staff and volunteer the tools and understanding on how to report and block bullying online on various different platforms.

There’s a lot of information online but it also can be good to sit with the young person to go through the app and look at what the privacy settings are with them so that they can feel empowered themselves.

Chris:
And children and young people, where can they go for help and advice?

Gawain:
I mean for children and young people, it’s always going to be Childline. Childline, as I said, it offers free confidential support and advice and we’ve got a lot of information online as well which is specifically written for children and young people. And we have an under 12’s site which is childline.org.uk/kids for younger children, which again, gives very basic advice on how to stay safe online and how to cope with online bullying.

Chris:
And parents?

Gawain:
There’s quite a few places. The NSPCC has a lot of information for parents which will explain what they can do if their child’s being bullied online and places they can go to get support and ways to support and help build their child’s confidence back up.

There are places like the Anti-Bullying Alliance where they can go for specific help and advice but it’s also important for parents to know that they can go to the voluntary organisation that they’re talking to or to the school or to other professionals that they’re working with, to kind of get that advice and get that support.

Chris:
Thank you, Gawain. How can voluntary and community groups make best use of the opportunities offered by the online world to engage with children and young people?

Gawain:
That’s a really good question and I think when we’re talking about this kind of stuff, people can get very bogged down and very focused on the bad side of the Internet and the bit that’s quite scary and difficult to think about. But actually, for most young people most of the time, the Internet’s a really amazing resource. And when you think about it, just in the sense of education and trying to find information online and sharing things that you’ve discovered and even just finding matter of fact, it’s an absolutely amazing resource and if you’re willing to embrace it you can do things basically from saying, we’d like to find out what you can find out online about this particular topic, right through to we’d like to see what you can create on Minecraft using these tools and then we can have a competition to show who has the best building.

Chris:
So voluntary and community groups can harness the opportunities offered by social media and the web to promote their organisation themselves as a means of engaging with young people?

Gawain:
Absolutely and it’s the thing to think about is if you’ve got a very good social media presence, then young people are seeing you online and they’re able to see the kind of resources you offer.

Chris
And I’m sure in terms of Childline, the way Childline has grown in recent years is that they’re increasingly using social media as a way of engaging with young people and helping them think through issues. Could you say a little bit about that?

Gawain:
Absolutely and I think it often comes up in conversations because sometimes… and its usually older people who will say, well we used to remember you had TV adverts, why don’t you have them, as many as those before… because kids don’t watch TV.

Basically children and young people are on social media, so we have moved to social media because that’s where they’re on and our principle place is Instagram, but we’ve also done some advertising on Snapchat as well.

For us, one of the big things is the enormity of social media and actually how seriously we take it because we as an organisation, Childline, is a place that young people come to disclose and talk about a lot of very personal things that are going on with them, so any kind of social media presence we have, risks young people seeing that as a place to come and talk about that.

We’ve very carefully thought about what we talk about on social media, how we talk about it and we’ve got very clear procedures and guidelines on how we’ll work with young people on social media, if they do come to us.

Chris:
And of course, that Childline experience is something which other voluntary and community groups who are perhaps a lot smaller than Childline will need to bear in mind when they’re addressing these issues.

Gawain:
Absolutely and it’s very much that thing of making sure that you’ve thought of what’s going wrong before something goes wrong because if something now does go wrong, it takes a long time and it can take a lot of effort to help make sure that a young person’s safeguarded and it ranges from thinking about actually if someone does disclose to you online what your procedure is, how you’ll do that - right through to thinking about how long are you going to be online?

If you’re setting up a group or a page, how long is that page going to be there for, who’s going to monitor it and making sure that anyone who comes to that page is aware of that and they’re aware of actually when it’s monitored and when they can expect a response and who will be responding.

Chris:
I think what you were saying, how there are a lot of good opportunities which the social media and World Wide Web offer and that we need to keep a sense of perspective, it’s not all doom and gloom and there are a lot of opportunities but careful managements.

Tell me Gawain, how, if at all, do you think a child or young person could know that a voluntary or community organisation or group will keep them safe online as well as offline? What do the voluntary and community groups need to do?

Gawain:
They need to show that they’re there and it very much comes down to behaviour because you can tell somebody but unless you’re showing that in what you’re doing… and it can range from having any kind of policies available to young people in child-friendly language and not just having them available but also talked about.

In the same way I said earlier about talking to your staff and making sure you have those conversations, having those conversations with children and young people and making sure that your staff are consistent in what they’re doing. So actually if you’re talking about things you’re doing online, if you have a staff member who’s doing something completely different and actually that’s never challenged, then why should they trust what you’re saying?

Chris:
So it’s a question of raising awareness with the young people and it’s a question of really kind of demonstrating that you are listening and that they can trust you?

Gawain:
Yeah and just modelling good behaviour and modelling the behaviour you want to see from them.

Chris:
And is your impression that this is something which voluntary and community groups are doing?

Gawain:
It’s again, I think it’s really mixed and I think some are absolutely great and I think some because they find the area intimidating or because they don’t necessarily see where it fits in what they do, they kind of… it ends up by a bit by the side but I think it’s something that’s actually improving every year, that more and more organisations are getting used to it, actually seeing the benefits of the online more and more and getting better at this kind of thing and showing that they’re there for young people.

Chris:
It seems that there’s a lot which voluntary and community groups need to think about. They don’t need to do this alone.

Are there resources? Are there sources of support which they can draw on to help them with their thinking?

Gawain:
There’s a huge amount and I think there’s almost too many because one of things that some organisations can struggle with is where do I start with all of this?

One of the best places to start is NSPCC Learning which provides professional resources on a whole host of areas and they’ve got guidelines around all of online safety [and] training you can access to keep children safe online.

Obviously, Childline, while it’s directed at children and young people, can be a really good resource for professionals if they’re thinking about ways to explain things to children and young people because we have resources on all of these topics and it’s written for children and young people.

Chris:
There’s a lot of resources on the Childline website which voluntary and community groups might draw on?

Gawain:
Absolutely and we’ve had a lot of professionals who come to us and said, actually we really like your resources because we like to give them to children and young people and if you’re trying to start a conversation with a young person, sometimes having a webpage in front of you can be good way to do that because you’re saying let’s look at this together.

Chris:
Thank you. Are there any other resources Gawain that voluntary and community groups can draw on?

Gawain:
There’s one that are really useful. The NSPCC has a partnership with the O2 and they’ve set up the O2 advice line which is specifically to give parents and professionals advice on anything related to online safety. And it’s not something you need to be an O2 customer to access which is quite important to say but they can answer a lot of the technical questions. And sometimes where you can fall down is exactly how do you set this specific kind of firewall up or how do you specifically manage this behaviour online. They can answer that kind of question really easily.

Chris:
So, there are quite a range of resources that voluntary and community groups can draw on to help them think through these issues?

Gawain:
It’s massive and even if anything goes wrong, there’s CEOP – which is the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency – which is there to support kind of anything where you’re concerned about a child who is being groomed or is potentially at risk online. They also have online resources for adults and for child and young people called ThinkUKnow which is a brilliant resource.

Chris:
So a small, local voluntary and community group who is addressing these issues doesn’t need to think that they’re tackling this issue alone, there is quite a lot of resources that they can draw on?

Gawain:
Absolutely and there’s a lot that they can access where all of the thinking that they need to be done is already done for them and they can just look and take what they need.

Chris:
Children and young people are very varied and we know they mature and develop at different rates, they have different abilities and capacities. What do you think the implications of that are for online safety?

Gawain:
A big part of it is around what the vulnerabilities are for these young people and actually what they should and shouldn’t be accessing, depending on what their developmental age is and what they legally can and can’t do.

One of the good examples for organisations to remember is actually social media. The recommended age is 13. Nobody under 13 should be on Facebook and nobody under 13 should be on Instagram.

A lot of them are but actually if you’re, for example, creating a Facebook page for a group of 11-year-olds, you’re encouraging that behaviour and you’re very much then saying, we’re encouraging young people to join Facebook and come and see our group here and you’re also technically violating Facebook’s rule of terms of service. And another thing to think about is how young people use the online space. It varies a lot and changes a lot as they get older.

So, it’s the age that people start to access and have their own devices, getting younger and younger and the amount of time people are spending online is getting more and more.

Developmentally the way that people use the Internet changes over time and the kind of content that people are allowed to see. There are a lot of age ratings that really, really are very important. A really good example are games… so games have PEGI ratings which are age ratings similar to films but it also covers what kind of content is available whether it’s violence, sex, nudity, that kind of thing.

Now what we see is that a lot of young people were playing games that are far too old for them and that can have an impact on how they react to that game with it either being distressing or having an impact on how they see the rest of the world and it can have a big impact. And it’s important to be aware of things like that when you’re working with children and young people, is what they’re doing online or on their device appropriate for their age?

Should this young person be doing this, should I be worried and what can I do if I am concerned about this young person?

The ideal is then knowing, the young person feeling confident to actually talk to you about it and not feel like they’re going to get in trouble for having done something and not feel like the person they’re talking to isn't interested and it always comes down to that thing of, “oh, I don’t know what that is, can you explain it to me?”.

Chris:
And being available to listen.

Gawain:
Exactly.

Chris:
Thank you, Gawain. We’ve talked a lot about the responsibilities of voluntary and community groups, we’ve spoken about the importance of preparation. If everything goes well, it seems that you know children will have a very positive experience.

We know that sometimes things can go wrong but voluntary and community groups will be in a very good position to learn from how they’re engaging with children and young people in relation to safety and online safety.

How can they share what they’ve learnt and what their experience has been?

Gawain:
It comes to the heart of actually whose responsibility is it to keep children and young people safe online and in many of these cases, it’s the voluntary organisations and organisations like the NSPCC that are having to take responsibility because the other companies and social media companies haven't, to the point that it’s allowed young people to become unsafe. And so I think if an organisation is finding that a particular site or a particular thing that’s happening is leaving young people unsafe and it’s making them concerned… the NSPCC is one of the best ways for them to kind of make their voice heard and to kind of raise the alarm that this is what’s going on.

The NSPCC’s Wild West Campaign is a really good way for organisations to get involved in helping to change the online space for young people to help make it safer.

Chris:
So what we’re saying is that keeping children safe online and in general has to be everybody’s responsibility, so yes, it’s voluntary and community groups and parents but it’s also the providers and government itself?

Gawain:
Absolutely.

Chris:
Gawain Griffiths, thank you very much.

Gawain:
Thanks Chris.

(Outro)

"Thank you for listening to this NSPCC Learning podcast. If you're looking for more safeguarding and child protection training, information or resources, please visit our website for professionals at nspcc.org.uk/learning."