Supporting Online Youth Work
Addendum to Children First National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017
The DCYA Addendum to the Children First National Guidance has provided clear instructions to the Youth Work Sector requesting that we include the protection of children and young people. One of the main objectives of the Children First Act 2015 is to ensure that children and young people are kept safe from harm while using the services of relevant organisations.
The following is an extract from the DCYA Addendum and needs to be considered when working with young people.
Keeping children and young people safe from harm online
The Government’s Action Plan for Online Safety notes that “it is now almost impossible to imagine a world without the internet or to imagine a future where the internet has less of a role in our lives than it does today.”
It is important that we acknowledge the central role of the internet in all of our lives and that we support children and young people to take advantage of all of the unprecedented opportunities to learn, discover, create and communicate that new technologies provide.
However, while they are often confident and competent users of new technologies, children and young people may be less aware of the inherent risks involved. Children First operates on the premise that it is the responsibility of everyone in society to keep children and young people safe from harm. This responsibility includes keeping children safe from harm online.
Children should be supported and encouraged to develop safe and responsible online behaviours. If a relevant service is allowing children access to the internet where they could become exposed to harm, including harm of assault or sexual abuse (as set out in Section 2 of the Act), there is an obligation on the service provider to ensure that the risk is identified and that the policies and procedures that are in place to manage the risk are set out in the Child Safeguarding Statement.
Further detailed information on undertaking a risk assessment is set out in the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children [DCYA, 2017] and Guidance on Developing a Child Safeguarding Statement [Tusla, 2017].
Please note you should always contact Tusla if you have reasonable grounds for concern that a child may have been, is being or is at risk of being harmed. Please follow your reporting procedures as detailed in your child protection policy.
Why is being safe online important for youth work?
New technologies have increasingly become integral to all of our lives and particularly in the lives of children and young people. The internet and other digital information and communications technologies are powerful tools, which open up new opportunities for everyone.
The youth work environment is ideally placed to use these tools to stimulate discussion, promote creativity and create learning opportunities for young people. Technology also creates opportunities for youth workers to be more creative in their work.
As with any work with young people, awareness of potential risks is an important consideration. Youth work organisations and youth leaders have a responsibility to proactively address these potential risks. Online risks for young people must be considered in the same way as offline risks are.
It is important to embrace the opportunities offered by these new technologies. Youth services must decide on the right balance between controlling access to the internet and technology, setting rules and boundaries and educating young people and leaders about responsible use. Youth services must be aware that children and leaders will never be completely prevented from being exposed to risks both on and offline. The important role of youth services is in empowering and educating young people so that they are equipped with the skills to make safe and responsible decisions as well as to feel able to report any concerns.
It is the responsibility of every organisation to have in place safe and effective policies, procedures and practice to address these risks and allow the safe use of internet and emerging technologies. If your youth work service incorporates online work with young people then the Child Safeguarding Statement Risk Assessment process needs to assess the risks that may emerge from that work and implement control measures to minimise the risks that are identified.
Table 2.1 provides a sample risk assessment that can be used to identify the control measures that you can implement to reduce harm to a young person while they are using the internet at your youth service.
Table 2.1 Sample Risk Assessment for Concerns Arising from Internet Use
|Young person accessing inappropriate content while surfing the internet at the Youth Service|
What do we have in place to control this risk?
|Agreements in place with young people that they agree not to search for inappropriate content.
Code of behaviour for young people.
Firewalls in place to minimise the risk
Indicate the likelihood of any of the potential risks of harm occurring by rating them Low/Med/High
|Consider the young people you work with, the environment that they have internet access in and what level of supervision that you have in place.|
Indicate the impact of any of the potential risks occurring by rating them Low/Med/High
|Consider the type of content that they may be exposed to, what their age is and how getting access to inappropriate content may impact them individually or collectively. Consider their ability to be able to ask for help if they access inappropriate content for their age and stage of development.|
Future Action Required
|Review the Code of Conduct with young people to ensure they are aware of the agreed behaviour when online and that they know who to report any difficulties or concerns to that they may experience. Seek advice from the DLP and Tusla if required.|