Contacting the National Crime Agency CEOP Command
Children and young people in care using the internet and social media share the same risks and benefits as any young person growing up today. However, their previous lived experiences, their placement moves and changes in caregivers disadvantage them in ways that make them more susceptible to those risks.
What behaviours/risks should parents and carers watch out for when it comes to sharing online?
Taking risks is a natural aspect of children’s development and should be supported. Risk-taking increases as children get older. Protection from risk through total isolation may not prepare children and young people for adult life. So, allowing risk-taking situations with oversight and supervision can help children build resilience and take ownership of decision making in a safer environment.
Applying this concept to their internet activity and social media use is important to help them make safer.
Children and young people from any background can be at risk of online harm, but some are more susceptible to it than others. From our research, we know that offline vulnerabilities can predict the type of risks that children and young people may be exposed to. Based on this research, children and young people in care may be more at risk of the following:
If a child has been taken into care because they have experienced neglect or maltreatment these may trigger behavioural and emotional problems that could make them more susceptible to seeking out relationships, possibly online that provide the security and interaction they are looking for. This could put them more at risk of sexual victimisation and exploitation.
Children and young people in care may have a disjointed or fragmented social background that can make them over reliant on social media to reconnect or seek out contact with their birth family. This can have an emotional impact on their wellbeing. Where contact with birth family members is inappropriate, it’s important to help them manage their privacy settings on the social platforms they use and advise them on what information not to share to stay safe.
As children and young people spend longer online and become more active and independent, they will inevitably see something that may upset or confuse them. This can include sexual, violent or harmful content. According to Online Safeguarding for Young People in Care, reports of actual online incidents for children and young people in care were experiences of visiting inappropriate sites.
48% of children and young people in care said they had been cyberbullied compared to 25% of those with no not in care.
Cyberbullying, unplanned contact and internet addiction were the top three risks ranked outlined in the research report carried out in 2019. Further discussion and research can be found here.
Our research found that children and young people in care are particularly susceptible to cyber scams.
There is a relationship between children and young people in care experiencing cyber scams and being a victim of cyber aggression, suggesting that if they report a cyber scam risk, they should be questioned about experiences of bullying and online aggression. Equally, if they report online aggression, support should include addressing cyber scams with them.
It is important to be aware that:
Children and young people tend to see no boundaries between their life on and offline. Often they are targeted by someone who they know offline who may use their knowledge of their vulnerabilities to manipulate them online.
This report summarises the findings of the workshops and extensive consultation that we carried out with young people, parents, carers, and teachers to help us to create the Connecting Safely Online hub.
Seeking friendships online
Children and young people in care may look for places online and people to provide stable contact and interaction (good or bad) in place of physical interaction. They may have learned not to trust caregiving adults but can be won over by online contacts that do what they say they will do, give rewards, say positive things.
Oversharing personal information
Children and young people in care may also ‘over share’ information (inadvertently or not) online that can identify them, their status or their carers. This may be through the content of their posts or images (school uniforms, homes, favourite scenes), the regular posting of their location or through a choice of identifiers such as usernames and gamer tags.
Foster parents and carers should look out for behaviour changes to determine if a child is experiencing online harm (cyber scams, cyberbullying, sexting, revenge porn, online sexual abuse, online grooming etc) Here are some things to consider:
Equipping yourself to safeguard young people requires a mix of communication and relationship skills and the capability to work at a technical level. Keeping up to date with the current digital landscape through your own training and research will make your safeguarding more effective.
It’s important to note that the presence of risk does not imply actual harm, but teamwork (bringing onboard everyone involved with your child or young person) and a positive, proactive approach to their online activity will create a good digital atmosphere, reducing the likelihood of them experiencing online harms.
Here is some advice on what you can do to minimise risk, mitigate harms and develop an ethos of digital safeguarding for children and young people in your care.
Children and young people have a right to privacy but may not understand the value of their data or the risks involved with giving out too much information.
Like other children, those in care may lack the understanding of how online platform providers use their information for commercial reasons or insight on behaviour.
Giving out location data, posting from key locations or leaving identifiable details in posted images can help abusers and groomers locate, contact and befriend children and young people. Birth family members may locate where the children live or make inappropriate contact unknown to their carers.
If you need something taken down from a particular social media site, you can go to Ditch the Label, who can report the content to social media sites for expedited removal. You can also use the Report Harmful Content online website to get support on any issue you’d like to report. Also, if the information was further shared by a peer or classmate of your child or young person, contacting their school will help to ensure this does not happen again.
Cyberbullying can also take the form of an exploitative relationship which is usually done by someone your child or young person knows very well. It relies on a person knowing to target your child’s triggers to bait them into doing something or getting angry or upset for their entertainment.
Sometimes it can also be based on a conditional relationship that involves a person making your child or young person believe they have a close relationship – in order to demand things from them at times in secret. This is why it’s important to think about their emotional needs rather than simply enforcing rules.
If a child or young person is a victim of cyberbullying they may find it hard to recognise it or to even tell you who is doing the bullying, so it’s important to:
Know who they are connected with online
Think about why your child or young person might be continuing a relationship with someone that is toxic (as it may be fulfilling a need to be considered part of a group).
To help them recognise that a relationship is wrong, explain why it can put them at risk. Discuss what a healthy friendship looks like so they have a reference point. Set up a closed friendship group on social media and encourage foster/adoptive family members and genuine friends to ‘like’ and comment on their posts.
For some children and young people, making friends online and chatting to strangers can offer a form of escapism or it can compensate for their offline reality.
At times even if you’ve had a conversation with your child or young person about not chatting to strangers online, they may still do it regardless to fulfil a need to expand their friendship groups to feel accepted and liked.
Predators may use online platforms to build a trusting relationship with the children and young people to abuse them. This abuse may happen online or they may arrange to meet them in person with the intention of abusing them.
Those who may have low self-esteem and possibly social isolation with poor relationship skills, may seek acceptance and sense of value, affirmation and belong online. This may make them more vulnerable to being manipulated or coerced into sending nudes or sext because they may think they are in a relationship or feel under pressure to do so.
The National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Child Protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey said: “A third all of child sexual abuse is committed by young people themselves – tackling and preventing it is a significant challenge for both schools and the police”.
The ‘Police Action in Response to Sexting’ aims to help officers to respond in a proportionate way to reports of under 18-year olds possessing, sharing or generating indecent imagery of themselves or other children.
So, if your child or young person is being pressured to send a nude by someone at their school or other organisations like a youth group, approach the organisation as there should be a person who leads on safeguarding that will follow steps needed to investigate and report it.
CEOP – If you need to make a report to one of CEOP’s Child Protection Advisors.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) found the most common concerns raised of a sexual nature were online and peer-on-peer abuse. They highlighted the challenges of managing children’s online safety and peer relationships
If you think your child is in immediate danger call 999.
This includes emotional blackmail, for example pressuring children and young people to comply with sexual requests via technology. It can also involve deliberately trying to threaten, manipulate, scare or humiliate children and young people.
If you think your child is in immediate danger call 999.
Making the internet safer and more inclusive
Together with SWGfL we've created this hub to provide online safety advice and gudience to support parents & professionals working with children and young people experiencing vulnerabilities