A new training course has been developed for foster carers to support children’s online safety.
The course – launched by online safety organisation Internet Matters, in collaboration with The Fostering Network and digital resilience expert Dr Simon P Hammond at the University of East Anglia – has been co-created with foster carers and care leavers to reflect the realities of fostering in a digital age and understand the support needed for children in care.
Recent research carried out by Youthworks in partnership with Internet Matters found that while children in care experience significant benefits from being online, they are also more at risk from online harms than their peers.
Nearly three in 10 (29 per cent) care-experienced teens had received messages threatening to harm them or their family, compared to just nine per cent of non-vulnerable teenagers. A third had ever fallen for an online scam and one in six (16 per cent) said this happened ‘often’ – compared to three per cent of non-vulnerable teens.
Drawing on Dr Hammond’s research, the four training modules of the course are designed to allow foster carers to improve their understanding of what children are doing online and have effective conversations with children in their care about how to stay safe and thrive.
Dr Hammond, of UEA’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, said: “We can, we must, and we will do better when it comes to empowering children with care experience to thrive in our increasingly connected worlds.
“By increasing the confidence, skills and knowledge of those working in this sector, this course represents an important first step.”
The project is part of a UK-wide programme, funded by Nominet, which aims to improve the online safety of 65,000 young people in foster care by building their digital resilience and reducing their vulnerability online.
Foster carers can access the training through trainer-led virtual sessions led by The Fostering Network or through self-directed modules on the Internet Matters website, if they prefer to learn at their own pace.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: “At The Fostering Network we know the big role online connectivity plays in the lives of children in care.
“That’s why digitally confident and empowered foster carers will create a better environment for children in care to be heard and supported online. As a result, we hope young people in care will become independent digital citizens, ready to take advantage of the opportunities that being online can give them.
“Foster carers have told us they need more support in this area, so we’re pleased to offer carers the right training to have open conversations with their children about what they’re doing online and help support their safety and digital resilience.”
Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters, said: “From online gaming to social media, children in care are experiencing the benefits of being online – but are also more susceptible to the risks.
“We recognise that if foster carers understand the online world, they can provide effective support and encourage the benefits of being connected.
“By sharing our knowledge with foster carers through the training sessions, we will make sure that every child has a safe and positive experience online.”
For more information on the training course visit internetmatters.org/fds
Dr Simon P Hammond leads The Looked After Children’s Mental Health Research Network (LANTERN) within UEA Health and Social Care Partners (UEAHSCP).
LANTERN focuses on implementing early identification and prevention measures to facilitate positive mental health and is aiming to produce accessible psychological interventions for young people living in care. The group works together to assist young people, and their carers, to better identify and support their emotional wellbeing and mental health needs.
UEAHSCP is a research partnership hosted by UEA, whose main function is to increase collaborative research and innovation between health and social care organisations in Norfolk, Suffolk and North East Essex. For more information, please visit www.ueahscp.com.