Children across the city are spending more time online as a result of being asked to stay at home, and so the NSPCC in Plymouth is adapting its In Ctrl service that helps safeguard children and prevent online sexual abuse
The service was launched at the start of the year and was being piloted in a group-work setting at Marine Academy Plymouth under the charity’s Together for Childhood work in the city. However, since lockdown the free service is now being offered virtually on a one-to-one basis to more schools across the city for students aged between 9 and 13, including Tor Bridge High, Ernesettle Community School and Brook Green Centre for Learning.
It offers targeted support for children and young person and tailored advice and guidance for parents and carers to help them manage screen time and routines during COVID-19.
Strategic Service Centre Manager for the NSPCC in Plymouth Ollie Mackie said: “We know that there are some children and young people who may be at heightened risk of abuse online, and it is a priority of ours to help keep them safe.
“In Ctrl is great for children and young people where there may be concerns about their emotional wellbeing as a result of adverse experiences they may have had or their current online activity.
“We are adapting the way in which we work to ensure we can support children and families who most need support to navigate the online world and this has become more pressing than ever while children are subject to social distancing measures.”
Online sexual abuse can happen anywhere that allows digital communication, including social networks, text messages, messaging apps, email and online chats, as well as voice chat in games and comments on live streaming apps.
More than 200 online grooming crimes have been recorded by Devon & Cornwall Police under a new law that made it illegal to send sexual messages to children. The offence of sexual communication with a child came into force two and half years ago, following an NSPCC campaign.
Ollie added: “We are worried that there could be a higher increase in these types of offences this year because of the additional threats caused by coronavirus that are being intensified because tech companies have failed to address safety risks by designing basic child protection into platforms.
“The In Ctrl service is designed to offer a safe space to children, young people and their carers to promote learning, build understanding of risk and increase resilience, in their online and offline worlds.”
With an NSPCC worker children and young people explore themes such as boundaries, pressure and expectation online, self-care, body image, and sexting.
Children’s Service Practitioner Helen Huntley is involved in the delivery of the programme.
She says: “We want to help young people learn new skills to manage safety online. When they are not in school, children should know they can turn to their parents, carers or Childline if they have any worries or concerns.
“The sessions will look at life online for a young person and how this may be affecting them, with the aim of supporting them to be able to enjoy life online in a safe and healthy way.
“We’ll explore social media, consent and talk about potential risks in their online and offline worlds and how to seek help if they have a worry about it.”
Superintendent Roy Linden, Chair of the Plymouth Safeguarding Children Partnership, said: “In these unprecedented times, we know everyone is spending more time at home and using social media to ensure that social distancing does not become social isolation.
“The positive power of technology keeps our children, young people and families connected but we also know that more time spent online by our children and young people can lead to greater levels of risk.
“The significance of this risk should not be underestimated, and neither should the need for us to accelerate our response to support our community at this time by using and supporting the valuable In Ctrl service.”
The service provides additional support for parents and carers to explore their worries and concerns and provide them with guidance to help them feel more confident supporting children and young people with their online activity, and more informed about parental controls and privacy settings.
Advice on the latest apps can be accessed on the co-created NSPCC and O2 Net Aware site, which helps parents understand how to minimise the potential risks and ensure that online resources can be an important, and safe, part of coping with the implications of social distancing.
A full response to consultation on the White Paper of a new Online Harms Bill is not now expected until the end of the year and the NSPCC is concerned a regulator might not be introduced until 2023.
The charity is calling on the Prime Minister to deliver an Online Harms Bill, that sets out a Duty of Care on tech firms to make their sites safer for children, within 18 months.
For more information about the In Ctrl service contact the NSPCC Service Centre in Plymouth on 01752 422577 or viaPlymouth.Servicecentre@nspcc.org.uk.
Any adult concerned about the welfare of a child or young person can call the NSPCC helpline for free and confidential advice on 0808 800 5000 or visit nspcc.org.uk
Children can contact Childline for free on 0800 1111 or childline.org.uk365 days a year, and speak to a counsellor about a worry or concern they may have.