The RAP Project & The RAP Foundation work with young people in hundreds of schools. At the moment, we are delivering our presentations virtually, and empowering young people with definitions of sexual assault, consent and skills to practice personal safety on and offline.
In the present climate however, it is extremely challenging to enforce effective child protection in the home and online. The relevance of these issues has been drawn into stark contrast by the massive fall in child protection referrals since the start of lockdown in the UK, with Public Health England reporting referrals dropping by up to 50% in some areas of England. With the bulk of referrals being made by schools, doctors, and coaches, the primary points of call for help have been cut off, exposing the woeful lack of alternative methods of interaction and assistance. Alongside this, the increased isolation of children and families away from any scrutiny is creating the perfect environment for abuse to take place.
From the beginning of May 2020 the government introduced a raft of changes to legal protections for children in care. One change includes the legal requirement for a social worker to visit or telephone a child in care every six weeks and the requirement for a Six-monthly review. Many youth protection charities, including the NSPCC and Childline, have denounced these changes, with Carolyne Willow, the director of Article 39, a charity that campaigns for the rights of children in institutional settings, calling the changes in the law “Deregulation on steroids”.
With most children being forced to learn online as well as socialise and play independently and without structure provided by the school day, the necessity for a frank and open discussion about how we educate our children in regards to their personal safety, either online, or in wider society is absolutely paramount.
The steps that have already been put in place on the major online platforms have repeatedly demonstrated their inability to fully protect minors online. Facebook employs third party US content moderators, which will now have to work from home, as well as a state of the art AI which, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, has said the company will be increasing during the Corona outbreak. This will pale into insignificance when compared to the vast increase in hours spent online by children and vulnerable people. A content moderator is responsible for user-generated content submitted to an online platform. The content moderator’s job is to make sure that items are placed in the right category, are free from scams, doesn’t include any illegal items or activity, and enforce child protection policy. With the net spread incredibly thin due to the disparity between the amount of children online and the people there to protect them, more young people are at risk of being hurt and exploited.
How can more effective steps be taken to protect children while this crisis is in effect and afterwards? There have long been advocates of the many other ways to protect children with conversation and outreach being at the heart of most charitable responses. The NSPCC have some in depth guidelines on how we can all keep an eye out for child safety.
- Reassure them that you’re interested in their life, offline and online. Recognise that they’ll be using the internet to research homework as well talking to their friends.
- Help your child understand how to live stream and use video apps safely and make sure they’re speaking to people they know already.
- A recent NSPCC Survey shows that children turning to social media because they’re feeling lonely or have poor mental health are at higher risk of being groomed online.
- It’s important to understand what they’re doing online rather than setting limits on their total screen time.
For example, a child may spend hours searching the internet, while another child may spend less time each day talking to people they don’t know on a live streaming or video app.
Highlighting the importance of everyone taking responsibility, rather than leaving it to an out paced social care system. It falls on everyone to increase their vigilance and awareness of safeguarding issues and the signs which are commonplace in instances of abuse.
How many people can say they know the six key signs of abuse that the NSPCC list? If everyone familiarised themselves with the guidelines clearly set out by many charities and child advocacy organisations then we would be going a great deal further down the right path for interacting, engaging and helping vulnerable children. With the classically relied upon structures of failing drastically and with millions of people at home, what better time to engage the ability of everyone to contribute. The old African saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ takes on even more of a significance at this point of crisis and where we go from here will define our ability to keep children safe for years, if not decades to come.