Contacting the National Crime Agency CEOP Command
To help children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) connect and share safely with others online, we’ve provided insight and advice on what you can do as a parent or carer to support them.
Of course CYP with SEND use the internet to connect in just the same way as everyone else – to make and maintain friendships and share experiences. But the benefits may be greater for these young people because:
Friendships can be easier to maintain online especially if not attending a local school.
Online connections can offer an escape from being the child who is always seen as ‘different’ or who has additional needs – they can be themselves.
Connections can also be made in supportive and nurturing environments and provide a place to explore common interests.
Some children may find socialising behind a screen easier than face to face.
From our research, we know that CYP with SEND experience greater risks when it comes to content, contact, or conduct risks.
Any child, from any background, can be at risk of the following risks online. But some are more vulnerable than others:
CYP told us they are aware that risks and harms exist, but less able to take steps to avoid them, either because they simply did not recognise them in their own social feed or did not feel able to act.
This lack of critical thinking was a key issue that will impact their online experience. These young people are more likely than most to accept what people say online and to trust what strangers or friends say, without considering the consequences.
Whilst many CYP do not understand the data implications of their online lives, this may be even more complex for CYP with SEND. They may be confused about privacy settings, and about what they were supposed to protect, as they think they have nothing private on their profiles.
Numbers of followers is often seen as an indication of popularity, which can be even more important for CYP with SEND who are often excluded and made to feel unpopular. This means private settings are even less attractive as it would make it impossible to attract followers.
It’s likely that there will be a greater need for parent/carer and child conversations about online life and who they are connecting with – to ensure these children are safe 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.
Here are a few things to think about to support CYP:
Talking and sharing online removes physical barriers and gives children with SEND an opportunity to find their tribe to feel accepted. Along with the clear benefits, it’s important to assess if they are ready to be active on social media.
If they are already connecting online, using tools and strategies to help them get the best from their online interactions is key.
Here are a few things that you can do with your child to help them get the best out of their interactions online and build good online habits.
Build up children and young peoples’ resilience to make safer and smarter choices online. Doing so by engaging in regular, open, bitesize conversations with them about their lives online is one of the best ways to build and develop coping strategies. It also gives you an easier way to know when to support them.
As a parent or carer of a child with SEND you may already be concerned about the issues they can be exposed to. To help you deal with these potential issues we’ve provided guidance on things you can do and places you can go for support and further advice.
Although children with SEND are more at risk, risks do not always lead to harm. It’s likely that your child may talk to strangers online while gaming or in a group chat, or may experience negative comments, but the key thing is to ensure they know how to recognise warning signs to stop it turning into harm.
It’s impossible to protect children from all situations that they may face, but being prepared with an action plan can give you the confidence you need to support them.
Here are some steps you can do (you will want to adapt it to fit with your knowledge of your CYP):
Any child, from any background, can be at risk of sexual abuse online. But some are more vulnerable than others. 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
Any child, from any background, can be at risk of emotional abuse online. But some are more vulnerable than others.
This includes emotional blackmail, for example pressuring children or young people to comply with sexual requests via technology. It can also involve deliberately trying to threaten, manipulate, scare or humiliate a child or young person.
It is common for young people to talk about sharing sexual images, and this can make them think that it is expected or normal to send nudes in romantic relationships. It’s not widely done among young people, but children with SEND are consistently more likely to have shared sexual images.
Those with mental health issues are nearly twice as likely to send explicit images (12%) compared to those with no issues (6%).
Children who experience a range of other vulnerabilities are also significantly more likely to send images including 23% of those who have an eating disorder, 20% of young people with a long-standing illness, 16% with hearing loss, 16% of those with autism and 15% who experience speech difficulties.
With this in mind, it’s important to advise children that they should not feel pressured to send a nude to keep a relationship going.
What is the harm?
If your child is involved with a friend or part of a group who is controlling and pressuring them into doing things for them, this could escalate into requests for nudes. Your child might naively believe that these people are their friends and, in their eagerness to be accepted, your child may do what is asked.
If a child is receiving many more messages than before at all hours or hides their phone or becomes secretive when questioned, these might be signs that they are at risk. At times the intention is to hide the relationships from parents and carers so it’s important to stay engaged on who your child is connecting with when they are online.
If your child 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.
Since January 2016 the police have the option to record an incident as “Outcome 21”, which makes a note of it taking place but not putting it on a criminal record. Many sexting incidents are now dealt with in this way. However, for more serious incidents (for example, deliberately sharing an image to abuse – using the image to coerce or exploit the victim) prosecution may still take place.
Childline – report a nude online – If you are under 18 you can report a nude image online.
CSO – Connecting Safely Online.
CEOP – If you need to make a report to one of CEOP’s Child Protection Advisors.
The Zipit app can help your child fend off requests to share nudes from young people they know. It provides witty ways to say ‘no’ and advice.
Childnet Project deSHAME – resources for educators to tackle sexual harassment.
For some children, 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 a child about not chatting to strangers online, they may still do it regardless to fulfill a need to expand their friendship groups to feel accepted and liked.
Predators may use online platforms to build a trusting relationship with the CYP to abuse them. This abuse may happen online or they may arrange to meet the CYP in person with the intention of abusing them.
Whether your child is playing games with people they’ve never met or started a relationship with someone online, it’s important to take the following steps to keep them safe from online grooming.
Steps to take if your child has sent an inappropriate picture of themselves to someone online
For children with SEND, cyberbullying can take the form of a manipulative relationship, for example, a child may feel that those doing the manipulating are friends and may feel pressure to do what their ‘friends’ say because they want to stay part of the group.
Cyberbullying can also take the form of an exploitative relationship which is usually done by someone your child 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 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 with SEND 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:
While sharing online can be a great tool for young people to showcase aspects of their life or support causes, in the heat of the moment, it can be easy to overshare personal information that can put them at risk.
What is the harm?
Sharing personal information that can make it easy for someone to find out where they live or go to school can put them at risk in the real world. It could also put them at risk of identity theft or even online grooming if they overshare with someone that may have bad intentions.
Our research shows that children with additional needs are more likely to be exposed to contact risks which include online grooming. So it’s important to teach them to keep their personal information private.
To help them share safely online and protect their personal data, here are some things you can do:
Conversations to have
Practical things you can do
As social online norms change, young people seeking acceptance online are taking risks they otherwise wouldn’t do just to be part of a group. This is especially true for children with SEND. An example would be sharing a video or image of them taking part in a challenge or prank or sending a nude to someone for a joke or because they like them.
What is the harm?
It can normalise and desensitise them from anti-social behaviour if they are part of a group that encourages bad behaviour.
If they are pushed to take part in sending a nude or humiliate themselves ‘for a laugh’ it can put their emotional wellbeing at risk.
As children with SEND are more influenced by what they see online, being exposed to forums that promote extreme risk can lead them to adopt values that can affect their behaviour and sense of self.
It’s important to make young people aware of how to deal with this peer pressure so they know how to feel the confidence to say no if they don’t want to do something that may put them at risk. Children often seek out rules to direct how they interact online and offline. Therefore, giving them clear boundaries of what they should and shouldn’t do online can deter them from feeling the need to take on these risks.
Here are things that you can do to help them deal with peer pressure:
Practical things to do
Help for children and young people with SEND
Making the internet safer and more inclusive
Together with SWGfL we've created this hub to provide online safety advice and guidance to support parents & professionals working with children and young people experiencing vulnerabilities.