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18 May 2016
By Rebecca Avery

Online Safety Concern: Important Information for Kent Schools and Settings

We have been made aware of a situation in Kent where children have been talking to and exchanging pictures with strangers online. Picture and video chat websites and apps like Skype, Instagram YouNow, Omegle, Oovoo and others, allow children and young people to talk and exchange pictures on tablets, Smartphones, other internet enabled devices via webcams and cameras.

Whilst talking online with known and trusted friends and family can be fun and exciting, children and young people sharing pictures and videos online may be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Whilst acting with good intentions, we have been made aware that some schools have shared sensitive information following a situation whereby children have been targeted online for sexual abuse. This information has subsequently been shared publicly on social media with good intentions, but this has generated distress to those involved and could potentially compromise the police investigation. Whilst we can appreciate that schools will want to take swift action to alert parents to such risks and to safeguard members of their community, we would like to remind headteachers and designated safeguarding leads about the need to be mindful about the level of information being shared, especially if there is a live police investigation. Sharing specific information which could potentially identify children, families and schools involved or alert offenders to law enforcement investigation could result in children being placed at risk of harm and may prevent appropriate criminal action from being taken. Ultimately this may result in a significant and long term impact on children, families and schools.

We would like to request that schools do not release any details regarding on or offline safeguarding concerns (even if they have been shared with you from a known or trusted source) which could be of detriment to any children, families or schools involved or that could jeopardise a police investigation. If any schools have concerns about on or offline safeguarding issues which they feel need to be shared with parents urgently, or with other schools and settings in Kent then they should speak with the Education Safeguarding Team for advice and guidance.

Contacts details for the Education Safeguarding team, along with guidance, template policies and procedures etc. can be found here. We would also like to draw schools attention to the following statement in the Kent Online Safety Policy Template (2016) which can be downloaded on Kelsi here. Section 8. Responding to Online Incidents and Concerns: “If an incident of concern needs to be passed beyond the school then the concern will be escalated to the Education Safeguarding Team to communicate to other schools/settings in Kent.” The most recent template contains updated guidance for schools regarding responding to online safety risks. The Education Safeguarding Adviser (Online Protection) has template letters regarding a number of online safety concerns which schools can adapt and share with parents. Three examples are available below in order to assist schools with working with their communities:

This item was originally published on the Kent e-Bulletin. Kent schools and settings can subscribe access the  e-Bulletin and subscribe here