Bringing safeguarding into the digital era

In the digital era that we live in, we can no longer think of internet or e-safety as a separate entity when safeguarding children and young people.

In fact, if anyone starts talking about e-safety in the traditional sense, you should just hush them up – this is 2017 and there is absolutely nothing ‘traditional’ about the internet and how children and young people are using it.

Generally, safeguarding within schools deals with e-safety in the context of children’s access to technology and their use of social media; however, it is crucial to consider the more hidden dangers that are away from the mainstream face of the internet.

The “dark web” has created a world in which perpetrators can hide behind a cloak and conceal their identity – making it difficult to track and identify.

Apps like Snapchat and, alongside social media sites such as Twitter, allow trolls a platform to target and groom children and young people.

Kieran Lyons, co-opted governor at a primary school, told TheSchoolBus: “Parents are used to teaching their children how to be safe in the real world but often don’t feel able to, or know how to, keep them safe online, therefore, this has become part of the challenge.”

We interviewed Specialist Safeguarding and Child Protection Consultant, trainer, author and troubleshooter, Ann Marie Christian, who shared her thoughts, and shined a light on this increasingly prominent issue.

Ann Marie said: “Parents need to police what is going on at home, they need to do more. Schools should support parents and encourage them, but predominately the emphasis is on the parents to teach their children about the dangers of the internet.”

What can schools do?

Schools can ensure staff are trained regularly and that relevant members of staff, e.g. the designated safeguarding lead, receive up-to-date, high-quality and appropriate training, guidance, support and supervision to effectively safeguard pupils.

Ann Marie advised that: “Whoever knows about safeguarding should shout about it! The designated safeguarding lead should ensure they are up-to-date with the latest apps, social media platforms and online trends – they should inform the school community as much as possible to these findings.

“Good practice is having personal screens in the school reception – the DSL should make a point of updating this with the latest safeguarding news and the school’s safeguarding objectives. Weekly newsletters and website updates should also include any relevant information surrounding new digital trends.”

Schools should also work closely with the ICT department – although they will know about social media and will have appropriate firewalls in place, it is prudent that they are also aware of the latest social media and online trends.

For instance, when information came out about the ‘Blue Whale Game’, a lot of schools would not have had firewalls up to prevent this search in the school’s internet browser.

“A good tip I would highly recommend is to check ‘Urban Dictionary’ each week. They are up-to-date with the latest terminology, slang words, and it can be a really useful way to see what is happening in the digital world. The school’s ICT department should check Urban Dictionary weekly and put appropriate firewalls in place to block dangerous and unsafe content,” Ann Marie advised.

Scott Jenkins, vice chair of governors at a school in Somerset, said: “The school has a duty of care to ensure that they do all they can when the pupils are at school, and should take every opportunity to influence their behaviour and understanding of social media.

“Some parents are not social media conscious and, therefore, are not aware of the risks that are out there in the public domain. Without a combined approach from both schools and parents, the problem is only going to get bigger.

“Social media use and content needs to be embedded into the school curriculum. Although some people may argue that it does not belong there, I personally think that we are in an age where social media plays such a huge role in our lives, and we need to educate and prepare our pupils for what they are going to face, and that their decisions will affect the rest of their lives.”

Ann Marie suggests that teaching pupils about healthy relationships, the dangers of the internet and fake news will help support them, but schools need to be clued up on what is going on. The selfie, for instance, is seen as harmless but in fact, images can end up in the wrong hands and remain on the internet forever. A lot of pupils tend to ignore teachers and schools as they feel that they don’t understand the internet, or aren’t as up-to-date – social media evolves at such a pace – but schools should endeavour to keep up with the latest trends so they can effectively protect their pupils.

It is essential that schools understand the importance of educating pupils about healthy relationships and sex, in order for pupils to make responsible and well-informed decisions in their lives. Our Relationships and Sex Education Policy contains procedures for effectively delivering sex and relationship education, in line with DfE standards.

Supporting parents

Although schools have a statutory obligation to safeguard children, parental support and engagement is crucial to success. Ann Marie suggests schools can do the following to support and encourage parents to help safeguard their children at home:

  • The school website should include information about pastoral care, and should include an email address that can be directed to the relevant person – this gives parents a point of contact if they have any concerns about their child, or another within the school.
  • Normally, parents have to go into school policies to find the pertinent information they need – supplying them with a simple breakdown of the main points, and outlining the school’s objectives, is a great way to give them information in a quick, succinct manner.
  • Schools can hold parent conferences throughout the year – this can include training, updates, or can be used as a platform for parents to voice their safeguarding concerns.
  • Schools can display posters around their reception, highlighting the importance of monitoring children’s internet usage.
  • Schools can hand out newsletters or leaflets which contain the latest social media and internet trends, alongside any commonly used jargon.

Keeping parents up-to-date with the latest in social media is a big step in helping to tackle this issue and keep young people safe. Some parents aren’t as tech savvy and may not be able to spot the signs of online abuse or grooming in their children.

Our General Safeguarding Letter to Parents Template can be used to explain to parents the purpose of your school’s policies that are focussed around safeguarding and child protection, and how these policies are accessed.

What can parents do?

A useful method that parents can adopt is a “no mobile phone upstairs” rule, says Ann Marie. The rule is simple – children can use their phones as much as they want downstairs, but with their parents in close proximity, therefore, they are less likely to get into conversations with strangers, or engage in sexting, etc.

Ann Marie says there are additional things that parents should do to keep their children safe from the dangers of the internet:

  • It sounds simple, but asking your child every day “How was school?” and “Did you have a nice day at school?”, shows that you are interested in your child and can open up a window for any concerns to be aired. Investing just 15 minutes into this can not only create a trust between parent and child, but it also allows the child to think about their day – something may have occurred that they weren’t necessarily aware was inappropriate at the time, but once they revisited the event, they might realise that what occurred wasn’t ok.
  • The internet can be as addictive as drugs, according to recent research – parents should make a point of watching their children and their habits. Is your child addicted to their phone? If you confiscate their phone as a means of punishment, do they behave in an unusual manner? If they do, this could be a sign that they are talking to someone online, and could potentially be a victim of grooming.
  • Parents should educate their children and inform them that if something on the internet is “free” then it isn’t good. Society has changed and no one gives anything away for free. If a stranger wants to offer you free advice on a computer game, or wants to engage in communication with you, then you should avoid this at all costs.
  • Parents should have an ‘open door’ policy with their children – as sterile as it sounds, having this in place will only reinforce in children the trust bond between their parents.
  • Investing time into your child will help them to feel empowered, if they feel empowered, they are more likely to voice their concerns and be open about issues that are occurring on the internet.
  • Talk about what might be ok for children of different ages. Ask your child what sites or apps they like – write a list and look at them together.
  • Be positive about what you see, but also be open about concerns you have: “I think this site’s really good” or “I’m a little worried about things I’ve seen here”.
  • Talk to your child about what you think is appropriate – but also involve them in the conversation. Ask what they think is ok for children of different ages – they’ll feel involved in the decision-making.
  • Be aware that your child might talk about friends who use apps or visit sites that you’ve decided are unsuitable. Be ready to discuss your reasons, but recognise that they may not agree with you.

You might find it helpful to start with a family discussion to set boundaries and agree what is appropriate – or you might need a more specific conversation about an app or website your child wants to use or something you are worried about.

There may be times when you are worried about your child’s online safety – if you are unsure what to do, always seek external help.

Contact your school or call the NSPCC for advice, but don’t forget about it or minimise the problem because its digital – digital abuse is serious and potentially extremely dangerous.

Our Social Media Safety Resource Pack contains downloads to help schools ensure pupils, staff and parents behave safely and appropriately on social media.

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