Introduction and Guide to Mobile Phones
An Introduction and Guide to Mobile Phones
A foster carer’s introduction and guide to mobile phones for children and young people in their care.
Sarah Anderson, Founder, FosterWiki
Introduction to mobile phones
There is no standardised policy regarding mobile phones for children in care in the National Minimum Standards or any statutory regulations and as foster care is devolved it is up to each individual local authority and agency to develop their own policies.
Mobile phones access and use also vary in what is considered appropriate for each individual child or young person.
It often falls to the foster carers to navigate the challenging world of mobile phones themselves, a landscape that got more difficult to manage with the introduction of the smartphone, with children and young people able to access the internet without supervision.
An article published in The British Journal of Social work by The University of Cumbria suggests:
As corporate parents of children in care, social workers also have a responsibility to enhance their digital literacy and to be a supportive resource for parents and carers. This will require digitally literate social workers (Taylor, 2017) who are able to critically select technologies and online platforms whilst safeguarding children’s best interests”
Looked after children and mobile phones
Having a mobile can support a young person, in developing a full, active and positive social life.
This can build confidence and support the young person in not only feeling a “full member” of the community but also contributing to their developing aspirations for the future. Children/teens routinely use social media on their mobile phones in their everyday lives.
Understandably, from the perspective of foster carers, there is a lot of concern about how best to monitor this but we need to be engaged in this digital space to help protect society’s most vulnerable young people. It is a place where they can connect with friends, and stay in touch with activities by texting, calling or using WhatsApp, video-calling and sending or posting pictures to share photos of events.
Young people want to meet online, and there are many platforms to enable them to do this. It’s a huge part of children’s lives and it’s a useful part of their social development. It helps develop a sense of community and builds relationships with their peers. Children and technology, love it or hate it, mobile phones are in your children’s lives and they are here to stay. Professional foster carers of today need to have good digital skills.
Using social media is part of a normal childhood, so if professionals try to suppress social media use, then many young people will be isolated from the normal experiences of their peers.
Communication via mobile phone and social media carries risks for all users. However, these risks do not stop their usage. With placement instability, this can lead to young people feeling abandoned and isolated at points in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable What can foster carers do?
Become Familiar and Confident
Risk-averse structures can actually cause more harm than good and can actually isolate them from their peers. Every foster carer should be aware of their Local Authority or Providers’ mobile phone policy.
You can also discuss individual issues during supervision and of course training. Over the past few years, devices have started popping up that give a helping hand in limiting children’s time on technology.
Mobile phone network providers operate a barring and filtering mechanism to prevent those under 18 years from accessing 18-rated contents, this service can be provided for both contract and pay-as-you-go phones. You are advised to explore this with the network provider that a child/ young person uses or see what other services they offer.
Visit the phone provider’s website for advice for parents/carers e.g., how to block adult content online and how to report abusive or unwanted contact. However, no matter what safety you provide some children are very clever at getting around this so it’s best to monitor.
What issues can arise?
A major issue for foster carers is that many children/teens now come into care with a mobile phone that parents have purchased. This brings up the possibility of unsupervised contact with parents, other family members, or people who may be a danger to them when their contact is supposed to be limited for their own safety. If you are aware of any inappropriate contact from family members or others, it is your duty to report the incident to your child’s social worker.
With a camera phone, they can also send pictures of themselves and friends, other information such as where they live or go to school etc, which can have security implications for some Children in Care.
It can also be a problem posting fostering family pictures- It’s important to ensure that photos do not create privacy or safety risks. Be aware that photos may reveal their location. Some smartphone photos and network services (such as Facebook’s and Instagram’s location features) provide GPS information.
Dependent on age and vulnerability, they may need close supervision, however, as children develop, we have to remember they need a degree of privacy. Children, just like teens, are addicted to mobile phones. They play games, chat and talk to their friends. The use of mobile phones can lead children to engage in inappropriate behaviours.
Texting and sending inappropriate pictures is a growing problem with teens. The images may end up in the wrong hands, giving others access to the private photos. Be wary of dating sites which may not be appropriate for teens.
Children can access pornographic sites from their multimedia devices. Risks for child sexual abuse (CSA) must be assessed for children who appear to have been trafficked, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; carers need to be aware that traffickers may continue to attempt to sexually exploit children.
There are stereotypes around disability or autism that assume that disabled children are already protected from harm, this is not the case and may need additional support and help with monitoring, setting up friendship groups, and understanding what keeping safe means, they may also need a particular mobile phone.
We also need to think about the inability of some children to communicate, that they may not say as other children do.
Important legal info and implications that you may not know
Creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. A young person is breaking the law if they: Take an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend; Share an explicit image or video of a child, even if it’s shared between children of the same age; Possess, download or store an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.
However, if a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action is not in the public interest. (With effect from 29 June 2021, section 69 of Domestic Abuse Act 2021 expanded so-called ‘revenge porn’) to include threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.
When we talk about mobile phones, we must think beyond the device and consider how we are going to teach our children to use technology and use digital media responsibly. It’s vital to provide guidance and boundaries to help children understand about using a mobile phone safely as in age appropriateness, parental controls, durability, and features of each device.
Mobile phones can be expensive to run and it is important that young people learn how to manage the costs involved in using a mobile. If we want to keep them safe, we have to build a good trusting relationship. It’s important to discuss and agree on the type of content that you would be happy for them to download, knowingly receive or send on to others.
Setting boundaries early is vital “what’s okay and what’s not” dependent on age but also taking into account their emotional age of understanding, you can do this by using a “home agreement” around the use of mobile phones. The child/teen should be fully involved and it’s an
opportunity to discuss with them how they manage their mobile phone.
Educate don’t alienate
Mobile phones can be one of the most challenging areas for foster carers, it can so often cause conflict when carers know the dangers but often feel out of control, especially with teenagers, plus technology, Apps and platforms can be hard to keep up with in today’s fast-moving online world. It’s an area where things can become fractious, but like all things fostering it never helps to get frustrated or stressed with a child.
The best we can do is place the emphasis on education around mobile phones, done in an empathic, calm and cohesive way especially with adolescents, as by this age it will prove very difficult to enforce safety restrictions on phones as there will be so many ways they can get round this, ie using a friends phone, getting another phone, being given a phone. So education is key, and education that is positive, helpful and supportive.
It can, and will be very challenging at times. You are guiding them in making safe positive decisions. Talk about different scenarios and problem-solving, in case things go wrong, and include who can they turn to for help if a potential threat presents itself.
- Get them to “think before they post” and be sensitive to how messages may be interpreted by others, including their own family members.
- Keep it real, explain we all make mistakes and they won’t get into trouble talking to you and that you can help. Sometimes children have a need to be in contact with certain people, but let them know it’s okay to talk about it as you want to keep them safe- a further discussion, compromise perhaps.
- Discuss how their phone works e.g., does it have Bluetooth, Internet access etc. decide together acceptable bills and encourage balanced use e.g., switching off the phone at mealtimes and bedtime. You should ensure that the child’s online profile and postings are private (friends only) and do not contain any information that might expose their identity or whereabouts. Discuss the importance of only adding people as “friends” who are known and safe.
- Discuss cyberbullying, not to send, forward, or respond to mean or embarrassing messages or pictures, and help them document, block, and report bullying if needed. Ensure they are aware that once a picture, video or message is sent, then it is impossible to delete it and they can’t take it back, if someone else (even a friend) can see it, they can copy, save it and potentially use it or share it with someone else.
- They should be told about extra costs that might be incurred if they by using the internet etc. which may not be included in their contract. A direct debit for a contract or pay-as-you-go is helping a child to become more independent and in learning to budget.
- Be clear with them that the phone is their responsibility, and that if they lend their phone to a friend, give it away or swap it won’t be replaced automatically.
- Talk about family time, and what has been agreed about using the mobile phone – if is not safe at present in the real world, then it should not take place on the mobile.
- Children and young people need sleep and their ability to learn and perform during the day – discuss a place in your home where mobile phones, tablets, and other devices can charge.
- Make sure to place your charging station away from all sleeping areas. Most schools/colleges have policies about children using mobile phones. These may include a phone being confiscated if not used appropriately – as in lessons. It’s a good idea to make sure you and the child are familiar with any rules before your taking their phone into that setting.
Foster carer’s comments
From the information and feedback we have received it is clear that too many providers have no clear policies.
There should be a standardised mobile phone policy, local authorities should be responsible for clear policy on mobile phone use and safety, and each care plan should set out the mobile phone plan for each individual child. If these plans are not being adhered to then foster carers report this to their provider.
If providers expect foster carers to supply a mobile phone then this should be funded accordingly, children’s allowances have not increased sufficiently to take mobile phones, and mobile phone credit, into account.
Local Authorities and agencies should provide a standard phone with inbuilt safety features, especially for younger children’s first mobile phone.
Links and helplines
- Online Safety for Children & Young People by Gabriella Russo
- Think U Know
– Online safety information (specific guidance for carers is available in the Parent/Carer section);
– Advice for children and parents/carers about online safety;
– Fun, games and information for all about effective internet safety advice;
- The Parent Zone
– Guidance and advice for parents and carers;
- Internet Watch Foundation
– Report illegal material;
- Child Safety Online
– A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media;
- NSPCC – Parental Controls;
- NSPCC Report Remove Tool
– The tool enables young people under the age of 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves which has appeared online. The Internet Watch Foundation will review these reports and work to remove any content which breaks the law;
- UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) Digital Passport – a communication tool to support children and young people with care experience talking with their carers about their online lives.
- The University of Cumbria: Digital relationally, rights, resilience: conceptualising a digital social ecology for children’s birth family relationships when in care or adopted The British Journal of Social Work.
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