Online Safety for Children & Young People
Online safety for children & young people
An foster carer’s introduction to online safety for the children and young people they care for
About the author of Online safety, Gabriella Russo
As part of her work, Gabriella delivers online safety training to groups of parents and carers, and also bespoke training to LAs and FCAs.
Introduction to online safety for children & young people
According to Ofcom research conducted in 2021, 91% of 12–15-year-olds have a smartphone and the Office for National Statistics tells us that in March 2020 (before the pandemic) almost 9 in 10 UK children said they were online or accessed the internet daily.
The children in our care are digital natives, which means that the landscape of the online world is incredibly familiar and comfortable for them – they are among the first generations that cannot remember a time when the internet did not play a central role in all of our lives.
These experiences are very different to those of most parents and carers. We’ve had to adapt to the internet’s influence in our lives as it has developed. It’s not surprising then that at least 83% of adults have concerns about at least one aspect of the online world in relation to children.
Whilst it may seem obvious that adults would have concerns, our children are not immune either. The same 2021 study revealed that 89% of 12–15-year-old internet users also have at least one concern about internet safety. It’s no wonder that a shocking 81% of those children had at least one potentially harmful experience online in the 12 months leading up to this research taking place.
We know that children in foster care are particularly vulnerable to a whole range of dangers due to chaotic backgrounds, histories of abuse, limited experience of healthy relationships, and the need to find validation and belonging.
The use of online spaces such as social media, online forums and other apps can sometimes feel like an easier, low-risk way for these young people to explore these aspects of themselves, without being aware of the risks they may be taking. For them, their experiences offline have been so difficult and painful, that the online world feels like a safer, more controllable place to be.
There is also 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.
So, how can we protect the children in our care from the harm and the dangers online? This page is a brief introduction to some hints and tips to help you, whilst taking into account the fact that every child and every foster family is different.
What can you do?
Become familiar and confident with the online world
The first and most important thing that you can do is to become familiar and confident with the online world yourself. It is so important to remember that virtual spaces are neutral things in and of themselves – it is how they are used that determines whether they are safe or not.
Equally, the internet is full of potential for wonderful things – for example, this very website! We have to recognise that the internet is here to stay, and if the children and young people in our care don’t know how to navigate it well, they will miss out on so many opportunities to learn, connect and find their place in this world.
So, how can you become more familiar and confident yourself?
Most obviously, spend time online. Get comfortable navigating virtual spaces for yourself. Ask the people around you. Show an interest in what your foster children are doing online – not just to check that they are obeying any rules, but out of a genuine interest in what they enjoy.
Ask your foster children to teach you! Attend training. Find ways to keep up to date with the latest trends – for example signing up for relevant newsletters or making use of websites.
A couple of excellent websites to get started with are:
A. CEOP’s online safety resources provide information and resources for parents, carers and professionals around this whole topic, plus dedicated, interactive pages for all different age groups so children and young people can learn about how to stay safe online.
B. Family Gaming Database is a website that has over 1850 games and over 70 board games in a database-style that allows you to search using filters or browse for information. It also has blogs on healthy gaming advice and you can also sign up for a newsletter to keep up to date with what is new and trending in the gaming world.
Manage your own online presence
It is important to consider what you and your family share online. You have to remember that whatever is posted on the internet, at any time, can be made public, even if it is posted with restrictions.
People can screenshot and share anything they have access to, and those saved images you have no control over.
Some first steps to getting control over your own online presence include:
A. Doing an internet search of your names to see what comes up publicly
B. Check your privacy settings
C. Consider whether any photos of you or your family reveal where you live or work
D. If you use location services to check-in when you go out, make sure those posts are set to ‘friends only’ rather than ‘public’ – but don’t forget that sometimes people you class as friends do not take the same precautions you do and can still pass things on to others, even innocently.
Online safety plans
It is highly recommended that you develop an online safety plan for your family. This plan should include children’s voices, so bring them into the conversation so that they can contribute. Find out what they would like to do, the sites they visit, and the time needed for them to study and play. Whatever house rules you come up with, they should be clear, consistent, fair and supportive.
Using your online safety house rules at placement information meetings/school transition meetings is a helpful way to set up expectations. Just be aware that these rules need to change and develop as each child gets older, so revisiting them and making conversations about staying safe in the online world an ordinary, everyday kind of topic is also vital.
Empower your foster children to reach out for help
Make sure that your foster children know which adults they can speak to if they ever encounter anything that worries or frightens them, or if they do something themselves online that puts them at risk. That could be you, teachers in school, other trust-worthy adults or, if they don’t
want to talk to someone they know, they can always speak to someone at Childline – the most important thing is that they are able to reach out safely, even if you are not their first port of call!
Know your right to help and support
Whilst these things can feel like more work for you, it is important to remember that it is best practice for your social workers to support you in knowing all online safeguarding policies and procedures for your work. I would highly recommend that you have a look at the latest document from the UK Council for Internet Safety (published March 2022) which has clearly outlined best practice recommendations for social work in children’s social care. You can use this to support you in asking for training from your provider.
Foster carers can take part in Gabriella’s Online Safety Workshop for Parents & Carers by booking their own place, or if you are an LA or FCA who would like to discuss bespoke training for your foster carers, you can book a free consultancy call with Gabriella, and she will also send you her brochure detailing what she offers. Both links can be found below in the useful links section.
Looking to book Gabriella for speaking or training please use the following link: https://bookme.name/gabriellarusso
- Gabriella Russo website
- UKCIS principles for social work in children’s social care
- UK Council for Internet Safety Guidance
- A practical guide for parents and carers who’s children are using social media and online safety
- CEOP Online Safety Resources
- Family Gaming Database
Information, Help and Support
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