Keep Them Safe – A Key Message about Conversations with Children and Young People from Arise Mentoring
We at Arise Mentoring have made our move to online mentoring and live streaming!
Given the current situation, we know that we’re not alone in this. The COVID-19 lockdown has really put many other face-to-face based organisations in a similar situation and they’re all doing the same. Given this almost worldwide change towards
online live communications, many more children and young people are beginning to see live streaming and online meetings than ever before. Let’s not get into any debate here, we all know how kids are so advanced with computers and to be honest a huge percentage would already be accustomed to this way of communicating, even socialising. But for a large number of young people and perhaps more so the younger children, this change will have opened a new world that they have never seen before and kids being kids, a world that they’ll naturally want to explore. And here’s where it becomes a bit more serious…
A lot more young people are online now than perhaps ever in the history of the world and dangers that follow them in the real world will also make their way into this online world. In fact, sadly, we know online exploitation already does happen, it’s just there’s a lot more chance of it happening now. Thames Valley Police has recently reported that reports of online child sexual abuse in the Thames Valley for March 2020 were 146% higher than the number of reports received in March 2019. Globally, the
situation is just as precarious. Across the pond law enforcement in Ohio reported a month-on-month increase in reported cases of online from 603 reports in January, to 839 in February and then an alarming record-high of 1,071 in March 2020. And to put this in context in the whole of 2006, there were 439 reported cases investigated in Ohio.
Following calls for the government to recognise the growing risk of online exploitation during this pandemic, a virtual meeting to discuss online safety was held on the 22nd of April between Caroline Dinenage, the Minister for Digital and Culture, James
Brokenshire, the Security Minister, and several children charities, such as Barnardo’s, NSPCC, and Samaritans. The following day the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport published its guidance on staying safe online including how to change privacy settings, block content and advice around scams and phishing emails.
More importantly, and given that young people are not all that likely to read this advice, the guidance advises parents to set up family filters with their internet service providers and hold important conversations with their children about online risks. To be clear, it really is these conversations that will have the largest impact. Charities like Childnet are sharing simple and effective ways in how to start these conversations, and such advice is well worth a read. However, the impact will only bear fruition if we all start this conversation, not just parents or carers but also teachers and tutors and online mentors. The crux is that all of us, and specifically, every responsible adult who uses online live streaming services with young people and children need to have these conversations.
So here are some vital points to further support your conversation.
The first place to start for anyone is Net Aware. Net Aware is a website launched in partnership between the NSPCC and O2. Here you can build a greater understanding of the online world and learn about the latest apps, sites and games that young people are using. For responsible adults, this is a treasure trove of information that will build your understanding about how to minimise the potential risks and ensure that online resources can be used safely during isolation and lockdown.
Knowing about the risks of each site and app is one this, knowing how these risks present themselves is another. Earlier this week NSPCC campaigns manager Helen Westerman highlighted the importance of talking about the dangers of online grooming as the modern age’s stranger danger talk that our parents had with us. To drive home the importance of this talk was the outcome of last year’s NSPCC survey of 2,000 children and young people aged 11 to 17 that found that lonely children are twice as likely to be groomed online. Helen further pointed out that more recently the lockdown and self-isolation has lead to an increase in calls to Childline, where children talk about feeling “lonely” and “isolated”.
It’s important to consider the impact these apps and sites can have on young people and to bring these up in any conversation. Young people are constantly looking for role models and can be easily influenced by what they see and are told. The impact of comments and especially nasty comments can leave long-lasting scars or pressurise behaviour in a certain way. The use of filters and the like all have a part to play in how young people present themselves online and what’s worrying here is the potential for young people to inappropriately ‘sexualise’ their image in this online world.
What’s more worrying is that the coronavirus crisis has created a ‘perfect storm’ for offenders to abuse children online. Unfortunately, as it is, this crisis has also meant that tech firms have had to scale back their online human moderators on sites and apps. The bottom line is that the more time young people spend on these sites and apps, the easier it is for abusers to exploit their vulnerabilities.
During these times of lockdown young people can easily end up communicating with strangers and potential abusers. The scary part here is that many of these sites and apps allow videos and conversations to be recorded if privacy settings are not correctly set. Once abusers have what they need then the potential for such material to be shared across other social networks, without knowledge or consent becomes something deeply worrying. Some apps might even share locations, and if an abuser is fixated on exploiting the young person they can be sly enough to get locational and personal information through conversations.
Barnado’s have a lot of valuable advice on their website around this and make it absolutely clear that abusers who are looking to exploit often ‘groom’ their victims to gain their trust. Once they have that trust, they can get personal information, and
may move to record and capture images or video of an inappropriate sexual nature. It is at this crucial point that abusers can exert a tremendous amount of control on a young person, and if you imagine yourself in that position, you can really see how quickly one can become so vulnerable.
At this stage, the abuser has already become a criminal and this is now when they may start the exploitation phase. The young person or child might begin even to see the abuser’s behaviour change, but many will be too frightened to come forward, and
some don’t yet actually realise they are being abused and may suffer in silence for years without coming forward to anyone to talk to about what they’re going through. In a key document to all schoolteachers, the Department of Education states ‘Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone who comes into contact with children and their families has a role to play. In order to fulfil this responsibility effectively, all practitioners should make sure their approach is child-centred.
For us at Arise Mentoring, this is the conversation all of our mentors have started having with our young people. And for all of you, teachers, tutors, mentors, or parents and carers, if you are connecting with young people and children online or via live streaming make sure you start having this conversation too. Stay safe and do your part in keeping all of our children and young people safe.
Shaqib Juneja, Safeguarding Lead, Arise Mentoring.