Safeguarding Children and Young People Online

1. Introduction

Every child and young person should be able to participate in an enjoyable and safe environment and be protected from abuse and these same principles apply in the online environment. This is the responsibility of every adult.

The Internet offers tremendous benefits and opportunities for children and young people and this procedure is certainly not intended to curtail any potential for fun, entertainment and learning. However, as with any social space, using the internet will pose some risks for children and young people particularly if they are unaware of the way that information / technology can be used by others (children / adults) with ill-intent to exploit or abuse them.

Child abuse is a very emotive and difficult subject for everyone involved. When the abuse / harm occurs online it can be even more challenging because many people who are significant in the child's life may not be as knowledgeable about the technology used. Indeed it is likely that the child or young person may know more than the adults around them about how to use the technology.

A child could experience abuse/harm online without actually ever meeting the person causing the harm in 'real life'. The abuser could also remain anonymous or adopt a pseudo identity.

Young people may be worried about confiding in adults about concerns or worries about things happening to them online through fear of the adult over reacting and / or confiscating their treasured device as an ill informed method of safeguarding that child.

It is important to remember it is not the technology itself that is the source of harm but rather the behaviour of another person that causes harm whilst online. Confiscating a particular device is therefore not an appropriate response to safeguard a child from harm online. The arrangements in response to harm/potential harm experienced online should be same as the arrangements in response to harm experienced by a young person in the 'real world'.

2. What Are We Talking About?

When this policy refers to 'online', this means somebody using a device to gain access to the Internet. How somebody accesses the Internet or 'gets on line' will vary massively especially as technology is changing so rapidly; the list below is a starting point of different means of getting online. However this is certainly not exhaustive and will change over time:

  • Computers, PCs, Laptops, iPads, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) etc.
  • Mobile phones, Smartphones, 3G phones etc;
  • Through WiFi connections available in restaurants, cafes, hotels etc;
  • iPods, MP3s etc.
  • E-mail, Instant messaging, Texts, Blackberry Messenger;
  • Social networking sites e.g. Facebook, Twitter;
  • Video hosting websites e.g. Youtube;
  • Games consoles e.g. Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Nintendo Online;
  • Chatrooms and Blogs;
  • Webcams.

All agencies providing Internet access to children and young people should have an Acceptable Use Policy, which sets out the roles, responsibilities and procedures for the acceptable, safe and responsible use of online technologies.

An example of an ICT Acceptable Use Policy for staff and young people (AUP) can be found in Appendix 1: Example of an ICT Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for Staff and Young People.

What are the risks?

  • Cyberbullying – When someone uses technology, such as the internet or a mobile device, to bully others;
  • Pornography – Access to inappropriate and/or illegal content;
  • Sexting – The use of technology to send intimate text messages including images of partial nudity, sexual images or video. Remember, if someone under the age of 18 creates an explicit photo or video of themselves, they could be held responsible for creating an image of child abuse. By sending this content to another person, they could be held responsible for the distribution of an image of child abuse. By receiving this content from another young person, they could be held responsible for possessing an image of child abuse;
  • Social Networking – Content uploaded online can be copied, altered and re-posted by anyone and it is very difficult to take back what may be later regretted. Children who create or post inappropriate, offensive or even illegal content could get into trouble with their school, friends and even the Police;
  • Downloading / File-Sharing – Prosecution linked to downloading, sharing or selling content without the permission of those who own the copyright;
  • Gaming – Unwanted contact from others online who may wish to bully or abuse them;
  • Online Grooming – An adult or peer with an inappropriate sexual interest in children approaching a child online with the intention of developing a relationship with that child. This can lead to exploitation and sexual abuse;
  • Premium Rate Content – Financial impact of signing-up to services;
  • Financial – Whether being blackmailed into paying soemone money or someone asking to use a young person's bank account;
  • Radicalisation – adults and/or peers use social media to reach out to and groom young people into supporting terrorism and extremism and, in some cases, to then participate in terrorist groups.

3. Key Strategic Objectives for Online Safety

Byron (2008) classifies the online risks to children in terms of content, contact and conduct. Byron goes on to say that to reduce risks means achieving three objectives:

Objective 1: Reduce Availability

Reduce the availability of harmful and inappropriate content, the prevalence of harmful and inappropriate contact and the conduciveness of platforms to harmful and inappropriate conduct;

Objective 2: Restrict Access

Equip children and their parents to effectively manage access to harmful and inappropriate content, avoid incidences of harmful and inappropriate contact and reduce harmful and inappropriate conduct;

Objective 3: Increase Resilience

Equip children to deal with exposure to harmful and inappropriate content and contact, and equip parents to help their children deal with these things and parent effectively around incidences of harmful and inappropriate conduct by their children.

Therefore any e-safety policy should address these strategic objectives.

In particular, the third objective is very important. If children and their parents can be empowered to safely manage the availability of and access to harmful contact, content and conduct then it will be less necessary for agencies to impose restrictions on availability and access.

4. Promoting a Safe Environment for Children Using Electronic Media

Creating a safe environment for the use of electronic media is as much about a safe working culture and practices as it is about putting into place technical safeguards.

There are 3 components to creating a safe environment:

safe environment

The following questions are helpful to assess how e-safe your organisation is:

Does your organisation........

  1. Have a nominated e-safety coordinator?
  2. Have the necessary acceptable use policies?
  3. Check that appropriate e-safety procedures and practices are in place and working?
  4. Use an accredited supplier for internet services?
  5. Include e-safety as part of your inspection evidence?
  6. Keep a log to record and monitor e-safety incidents?
  7. Raise awareness of e-safety issues by holding workshops and events?

Do all your staff and volunteers........

  1. Understand e-safety issues and risks?
  2. Receive regular training and updates?
  3. Know how to support youngsters with new technologies?
  4. Know how to report and manage issues or concerns?
  5. Know how to keep data safe and secure?
  6. Know how to protect and conduct themselves professionally online?
  7. Take the opportunity to consult with children and young people?

Do your children and young people........

  1. Understand what safe and responsible online behaviour means?
  2. Get opportunities to learn about e-safety?
  3. Get the opportunity to improve their digital literacy skills, e.g. how to search safely and effectively online?
  4. Know the SMART (Safe, Meeting, Accepting, Reliable, Tell) rules?
  5. Get the opportunity to give their views about staying safe online?
  6. Know how to report any concerns they may have?

Can your parents and carers........

  1. Understand e-safety issues and how to manage risk?
  2. Understand their roles and responsibilities?
  3. Receive regular training and updates?
  4. Understand how to protect their children in the home?

5. Responding to Concerns About the Safety of Children and Young People

When there are concerns about the welfare of a child which have occurred online then the agency should use its usual safeguarding children procedures and good practice to respond to these. In this sense the context of the abuse / harm occurring online is no different to other situations where there is a concern about a child's welfare.

If there is a concern about actual Significant Harm or the risk of Significant Harm to a child arising whist online then the agency should immediately activate its own safeguarding children or child protection procedures, and make a referral to Children's Social Care - see Luton Protocol for Single Assessments in Children's Social Care. Again this is no different to concerns in other situations. If a child or young person is in immediate danger then contact the Police on 999.

When an incident raises concerns both about Significant Harm and unacceptable use, the first and paramount consideration should always be the welfare and safety of the child directly involved.

To assist Police in any subsequent investigations, where possible, staff who are made aware of online abuse or inappropriate activity should try to preserve copies or records of offending material and obtain any relevant passwords to accounts or websites, where possible.

Suspected online terrorist material can be reported through Reports can be made anonymously, although practitioners should not do so as they must follow the procedures for professionals. Content of concern can also be reported directly to social media platforms – see UK Safer Internet Centre, Social media help website.

6. Responding to Concerns About the Online Conduct of Staff and Volunteers

If staff (paid/unpaid) behave in ways online that cause concern then this will usually be dealt with under the auspices of the Acceptable Use Policy or Standards of Proficiency of the agency (see example of an acceptable use policy in Appendix 1: Example of an ICT Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for Staff and Young People and a Standards of Proficiency for online communication in Appendix 2: Example of a Standards of Proficiency Written for All Staff (Paid /Unpaid) When Using Online Communication). Acceptable Use Policies define what behaviour is acceptable when using digital technology and should be in place to help everyone understand all aspects of their duties when technology is involved.

However, if the conduct by staff or volunteers amounts to a concern about an abusive relationship with, or harmful behaviour towards, a child or young person then the Allegations and Concerns regarding Staff, Carers and Volunteers Working with Children and Young People Procedure should be followed.

7. Safer Working Practices for Those Working or Volunteering with Children

Everyone who works with children and young people, whether in a voluntary or paid capacity, must always have their professional role in mind whenever they are operating in the digital world.

E-Safety Working Practices for Staff Procedure sets out good practice guidelines when working with children and young people.

8. Sexting - Self Generated Explicit Images of Children and Young People

There have been an increasing number of incidents where young people have shared sexual images of themselves (referred to as 'sexting'). Where this happens, images have usually been shared with a partner or intended partner as a form of flirtation or - in the eyes of the young person - 'safe sex'. Sometimes this is as a result of pressure, however.

Whatever had prompted the sending of the image, the act itself poses a risk to the young person in the image: once it has been shared it is liable to be distributed further. The young person is then exposed to risk of high-level bullying and to the possibility of being stalked by a paedophile who has become fixated on them after finding the image online.

Young people of an age likely to consider such actions should be educated about the risks.

Any incidents that come to light should be handled carefully, bearing in mind both that possession of the images may constitute an offence in itself, and the child or young person whose image has been shared is at risk and may already be subject to an exploitative relationship.

There have been a number of cases of images or video of children or young people under the age of 16 engaging in sexual activity being shared. These are legally images of child sexual abuse, even if they have been shared by others of the same age. All such cases are evidence of a child or young person being sexually exploited and should be dealt with as such.

If images or video of children engaged in sexual activity or in revealing poses are known to have been posted online, the following guidelines should be followed:

  • The Police should be contacted immediately. The police will be in a position to make judgments about how matters are pursued in relation to offences and offenders. Where young people are voluntarily sending/sharing sexual images or content with one another the police may use the 'outcome 21' recording code to record that a crime has been committed but that it is not considered to be in the public interest to take criminal action against the people involved. This reduces stigma and distress for children and helps to minimise the long term impact of the situation. See College of Policing, Briefing Note: Police Action in response to Youth Produced Sexual Imagery ('Sexting');
  • The nominated person for child protection/safeguarding should initiate a EHA. Through the EHA process judgments will be made about the best means of supporting the child;
  • Sites or networks on which the images appear should be alerted to the existence of illegal material. It is important that material online be removed as soon as possible, but staff must not put themselves at risk of illegality. Once the matter has been reported to the police their advice on this must be followed;
  • Any young people who have themselves posted potentially illegal material should be told to remove the items, and warned that police action may follow if they do not. Through the EHA process, parents may also be involved;
  • In some cases there may not be an obvious means of flagging or reporting the image Even in these circumstances the existence of the image should be notified to the network provider and police action may be necessary to ensure its removal or engage the co-operation of the young person who has control of the image;
  • The incident should be logged through the organisation's own monitoring / line management procedures;
  • Appropriate educational/pastoral work should be undertaken with all young people involved.

9. Useful Websites

Suspected online terrorist material can be reported through Reports can be made anonymously, although practitioners should not do so as they must follow the procedures for professionals. Content of concern can also be reported directly to social media platforms – see UK Safer Internet Centre, Social media help website.

Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre is part of UK police and is dedicated to protecting children from sexual abuse wherever they may be. It provides a range of training and information resources and can be accessed at: Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).


CEOP has a separate website for children, young people, parents, carers and practitioners and this gives advice on how children and young people can keep safe and in control when they are online. It also has information on how these groups of people can report concerns about harmful behaviour online. This can be accessed at: thinkuknow.

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)

Inappropriate or harmful material online can be reported to the IWF. More details are at: Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).


ChildLine is the free helpline for children and young people in the UK. Children and young people can call on 0800 1111 to talk about any problem - counsellors are always here to help you sort it out. See Childline website.


Childnet mission is to work in partnership with others around the world to help make the Internet a great and safe place for children.

In all its work Childnet seeks to take a balanced approach promoting the positive and highlighting the creative and inspiring ways children and young people are using the medium for good. You can also read about the ways to respond to the negative aspects and dangers for children on the Childnet website.

Advice on Child Internet Safety

The Department for Education has published guidance for all organisations and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), compiled by members of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), on child internet safety. Issues covered include chatting online, sharing information online, gaming and networking.

'Munch, Poke, Ping'

'Munch, Poke, Ping' is a report produced for the UK Government's Training and Development Agency (TDA) in 2011. It considers the risks which vulnerable young people, excluded from schools and being taught in Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), encounter online and through their mobile phones. It considers what specific advice, support and safeguarding training staff working with these vulnerable young people need when it comes to understanding social media and mobile technology.

Coram Children's Legal Centre - LawStuff is run by Coram Children's Legal Centre and gives free legal information to young people on a range of different issues. See Children's rights in the digital world in particular.

Appendix 1: Example of an ICT Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for Staff and Young People

Click here to view Appendix 1: Example of an ICT Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for Staff and Young People.

Appendix 2: Example of a Standards of Proficiency Written for All Staff (Paid /Unpaid) When Using Online Communication

Please Note: This Standards of Proficiency is not exhaustive and should be amended to reflect any additional expectations of staff and the age and development of the children / young people they are working with.

Adults who work with children and young people are responsible for their own actions and behaviour and should avoid any conduct which would lead any reasonable person to question their motives and intentions.

All communication by staff via any form of online communication will be for professional purposes only.

Any communication will be sent via a professional address only clearly showing the staff members name, job role and organisation.

All communication should acknowledge and maintain expected professional boundaries and be transparent and open to scrutiny.

Communicate with young people should be for professional purposes only.

Staff should not share their personal contact details with young people; this includes personal mobile numbers, email addresses, Social Networking profiles, Twitter accounts etc.

Staff should never accept a 'friend requests' from a young people or request a young people to be their 'friend'.

All staff are responsible for the security of their individual log-in and password and subsequently any communications sent from their address; they should not share their password and / or allow anybody else to log assuming their identity.

Any staff member who discovers their account has been hacked and / or their identity assumed should report this to their line manager.

All staff should record and report without delay any situation where they feel the actions of themselves / others (including young people) may have compromised the organisations or their own professional standing. Such incidents should be reported to their line manager.

Any member of staff concerned about the professional conduct of another member of staff should report this to their line manager in line with TSCB Procedure for Managing Allegations against Adults who work with Children and Young People.

Failure to comply with this Standards of Proficiency may result in disciplinary action.

Trix procedures

Only valid for 48hrs