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Keeping children in care safe online

Keeping children in care safe online

Most children in care use the internet safely but there are risk factors which can make them more vulnerable online. As a carer there are steps you can take to keep them safe.

Parents text content

Children in care

Children in care can be more vulnerable because of early experiences or the instability of being in care. 

Most children in care live safely but a small number do experience harm. There are a range of risk factors for children in care which you should be aware of. 

Parents text content

Children in care online

With the support of your local council or fostering agency, you may feel equipped to deal with the risks children in your care face in the real world, but how confident are you with the online world?

Rules and boundaries you set in the real world can apply online. You should ensure you familiarise yourself with the risks all chidren and young people face online so you can support the children in your care.

As well as this there are specific risks children in care may face online;

  • Contact from birth parents or relatives
  • Risk taking behaviour
  • Bullying
  • Security and safety

Contact

Once placed into care, many children and young people have limited, regulated or no contact with birth parents or acquaintances from their past.

In the real world it is often easier to enforce these rules than it is online.

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram, enable young people to search for ‘friends’, share information,  communicate and play. With millions of users worldwide, it is natural for any child to want to be a part of this experience.

Communicating online can be harmless but in the case of vulnerable children there are added risks.

On these sites your child can be contacted by people they don’t know, or do know, such as birth parents or family members.

Children can be curious, so think about the possibility of your child actively searching for their birth parents or friends they have lost contact with.

These people may not have their best interests at heart and your child may need to be gently reminded of this. Talk to them about why it might not be such a good idea - involve their social worker in the conversation if you feel you need additional support.

Remember....If contact is not allowed in the real world, it should not take place online.

Advice for carers from carers

Parents text content

What can you do?

  • Sit with your child and explain the risks of making friends with people online, this includes people they have never met in the real world, but also people from their past. Explain that rules that apply in the real world, also apply online and that they are there to keep them safe.
  • Ensure their privacy settings on social media are set to private, so only people they know and trust can see information about them – most sites have advice to help you do this. If needed, look at this with them.
  • Ask them to tell you if someone contacts them online who is not meant to (like their birth family). Ask them not to respond or accept them as a friend.
  • Inform them that they will not get into trouble, that you can help and if they want to be in contact, there might be a compromise. 
  • If you are aware of any inappropriate contact from family members or others it is your duty to report the incident to your child’s social worker.

Security

Social media enables us to share a huge amount about ourselves. Children (and adults) share photos, stories and even their current location, through their mobile phones and other online technologies.

Any child sharing too much personal information could be putting themselves at risk, however in the case of a child in care these risks are multiplied.

Information about their personal circumstances can be manipulated and used against them. It could be that someone from their past is looking to locate them, find out where they live or go to school. To reduce the risks ask your child not to share personal information online, such as;

  • Real world locations like their home, school or current location
  • Photos of them in recognisable places

Ask them not to ‘friend’ people they don’t trust in the real world

It’s not just your child who needs to think about their security, it’s the whole family. Content online can end up in unexpected places. A ‘like’ by a friend, can mean that their friends can see the photo, or even friends of friends. Make sure your whole family follow the same rules as your child.

Bullying and risk taking behaviour

Children who are seen to be ‘different’ in some way are often a target for bullies. It may be known that your child is in care and this can make them stand out at school and online.

If you are aware that your child is being bullied in the real world (at school for instance), think about how this bullying could be manifesting online. This is called cyberbullying. If your child is being bullied online there are some simple steps you can take to protect them. Childline have some great information which can help you.

As a parent or carer it is sometimes difficult to comprehend that your child could be the bully.

Children in care may be more likely to present risky behaviour to others. They may be a perpetrator or their behaviour may seem aggressive to others. They could be acting out these emotions in the online world, through the games they play or through their interaction with others.

If your child’s real world behaviour is deliberately mean or aggressive, talk to them about how hurtful this can be to others and what can happen as a result.

If you are worried about their behaviour in the real world, look into how they are acting online and talk to your child’s social worker and school.

Challenges

In complex situations such as these, challenges can arise. Your child may have come from a home where their online safety was not monitored. It may come as a shock to them when you attempt to implement new settings and security on the technologies and sites they use - they may be reluctant to oblige.

They may feel that this is an invasion of their privacy, that they own these technologies and that you have no right to touch them.

To overcome these challenges, think about;

  • Sitting with your child and implementing a ‘house agreement’ – explain that their safety is your main concern and that you know how easy it is to get into difficult situations online. Show them a Thinkuknow film or cartoon  to reinforce these messages – take the time to watch them first to understand the key messages.
  • Take it one step at a time, give them the opportunity to become accustomed to any changes before moving onto the next.
  • Implement safety guidelines across the whole family, don't single them out.