A digital service designed to help society’s most vulnerable children and young people who are disproportionally at greater risk of online harm has been launched today.
The Inclusive Digital Safety platform is the first of its kind and was created jointly by Internet Matters and South West Grid for Learning Trust Ltd (SWGfL) - with support from organisations including the University of East Anglia (UEA) - to provide dedicated resources, tools and insights for parents, carers and educational professionals who are supporting vulnerable children in the UK.
Launched by the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins, MP, the hub will house both created and curated content for parents, carers and professionals and has been specifically designed for children with special educational needs and/or disability (SEND), those currently or previously in care, and children in minority groups, in particular LGBTQ+.
The hub will also house an online forum that will enable professionals to share their situation and obtain feedback and comments from their peers.
The impact of Covid-19 has meant both Internet Matters and SWGfL have experienced a huge increase in demand, with greater numbers of both parents and professionals seeking resources and support. With the risk of schools going into local lockdowns, it is also important to provide professionals surrounding vulnerable young people with evidenced based, usable advice and insight.
It comes following a report published by Internet Matters in 2019 that revealed it is possible to predict online risks that different groups of vulnerable children may face online. This includes pressure to send intimate images, greater experience of cyberbullying and cyber scams, as well as repeated exposure to content promoting self-harm, anorexia and suicide.
More than two million children are considered to be the most vulnerable in England - including those with physical or mental health needs. These children face becoming ‘lost in digital space’ if the right support is not given, according to the Vulnerable Children in a Digital World report.
Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins, MP, said: “We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to go online, which means it has to be the safest place for everybody.
“It’s important every child can enjoy the internet safely and having adults understand what risks different children may encounter is the first step to ensuring risks do not turn into harms.
“I’m delighted to launch this innovative hub and would encourage parents and professionals working with children to explore the advice on the Inclusive Digital Safety Hub.”
Of the calls that the UK Safer Internet Centre Helpline manages from those working with SEND children, a significant proportion relate to sexting incidents.
In response, SWGfL has created a bespoke version of its ‘So You Got Naked Online…’ resource specifically for SEND children for the hub. The aim is to provide accessible information to help support young people with particular vulnerabilities in the event that they have shared intimate images.
David Wright, Director of UK Safer Internet Centre, said: “The internet has transformed how young people learn, socialise and communicate – but sadly it also brings new dangers, such as online grooming, cyberbullying and peer pressure. These risks are even more prevalent for vulnerable children.
“We know offline vulnerabilities allow us to predict the online risks children face. Prediction allows for intervention and prevention, but only if responsible adults have the tools to do this.
“This is why we’ve partnered with Internet Matters. We wanted to create the first-ever online hub to provide adults with the digital education skills to intervene, preventing risk from becoming harmful to vulnerable children.”
Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters, said: “We know that the single most important factor in keeping children and young people safe online is for them to have conversations with the trusted adults around them.
“This is even more important for young people most at risk of harm, so equipping the rainbow of adults around vulnerable young people with the evidence, resources and tools they need to have meaningful conversations, is a vital part of enabling all young people to enjoy the benefits of connected technology.
“Having those conversations early enough can help lower the risks of serious online harms later on. This way, we can help ensure that every child can benefit from connected technology safely. I’m delighted that in partnership with SWGfL we’ve been able to offer this hub to parents and professionals.”
Dr Simon Hammond leads the Looked After Children’s Mental Health Research Network (LANTERN) within UEA Health and Social Care Partners (UEAHSCP), focusing on the mental health and mental health support needs of children and young people with care experience.
He has been involved in reviewing content for the new website, and led the team working on content supporting parents/carers and educational professionals working with children and young people with care experience in relation to mitigating Online Harms.
“We know that learning, recognising, managing and recovering from Online Harms are increasingly important for members of society,” said Dr Hammond. “This timely and important project ensures that schools and education providers are equipped with bespoke understandings of these issues within the context of children and young people with care experience in ways that enable them to flourish in this increasingly vital area.”
For more information and resources on keeping vulnerable children and young people safe online, visit the hub: https://www.internetmatters.org/inclusive-digital-safety/