Published SCRs highlight that the internet poses risks to children and presents new challenges for those working to protect them from online abuse. The learning from these reviews identifies that professionals need to raise awareness about online safety and encourage children and young people to talk about what they do online and who they communicate with. SCRs held between 2008 and 2014 include suicide following cyber bullying, online grooming leading to child sexual exploitation, vulnerable parents targeted by abusive adults via dating websites and social networking, and children sexually abused in order to share images of child sexual abuse online.
The risk factors that have been identified through SCRs are:
- Virtual identifies give people control and can be used to manipulate and influence people they are in contact with on-line e.g. adults posing as young people in order to develop relationships with children as the initial part of grooming; inappropriate levels of intimacy between professionals and service users; children and young people being made vulnerable by relationships formed between adults online which can end in domestic violence etc.
- Unsupervised contact via the internet e.g. resulting in looked after children having unsupervised contact with birth parents, with a potential to lead to harm; young people building on-line relationships with people they don’t know.
- Online communities make abuse easier as it is relatively simple to contact and interact with people e.g. opportunities for people that share a sexual interest in children to network.
- Ease of sharing information online e.g. images of children being distributed with the sender having no control over who else they get shared with.
Key learning points from SCRs include:
- Agencies working with children, young people and their families having e-safety policies in place which include use of ICT, privacy on social networking sites, identifying positive practice, and setting out guidelines, detailing the reporting process for e-safety incidents.
- Consideration to be given to an e-safety officer or ‘champion’ who can share resources and keep up to date with developing trends in social networking etc.
- General raising awareness about online safety with children, young people and their families and carers.
- Strict rules about professionals contacting children and young people on line or “friending” their parents or carers which can blur the lines of professional relationships.
- Treating online abuse as serious and complex abuse cases – in the same way as other forms of abuse are treated.
- Restriction of the use of mobile phones and digital cameras in workplaces where there are children and young people.