Okay, so we have spent the last few weeks frantically trying to wrap our heads around the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic ways our lives are quickly changing. What these changes mean for us personally, as well as our businesses and service delivery is a whole lot more time spent in the online world. Suddenly, we find our businesses doing what we’ve been talking about for years at lightning speed.
As you adapt your ways of working, you must also adapt your child safety focus. Like many of you I am sure you’ve read lots of information about how parents can keep their children safe online, what children and young people can do to keep themselves safe and how to look after our mental health. Organisations still have a duty of care to keep children safe even in online environments, so what does that mean for you? How do we work remotely through a child safe lens?
1. Conduct a Risk Assessment for your organisation
- Determine whether face-to-face services will continue and, if so, in what capacity?
- Determine whether online or virtual service delivery is a suitable alternative
- If moving to on-line / virtual services, identify and actively manage new child safety risks associated with the new way of operating
- How are existing risks being managed in this new environment?
- Consider the need for increased services, for example, domestic violence providers may consider it necessary to conduct additional check-ins to ensure the safety and welfare of their clients
- Understand the risks/benefits around having clients visit you rather than remaining at home (particularly in the health and disability sector)
- Data security – how is information being kept safe?
2. Review your Code of Conduct
Review your Code of Conduct for staff and volunteers to ensure it is fit for purpose for your new way of delivery. Does it cover online delivery and the new ways children and young people may come into contact with your organisation?
It may be suitable as is. If so, great! Give yourself a moment to celebrate and make sure your team are as familiar as possible with their code of conduct, give staff the chance to review and ask questions about their new way of working.
Perhaps the code of conduct doesn’t quite fit the way service delivery is currently operating and a new document guiding behaviour needs to be in place moving forward. Think about what do staff, children and parents need to be aware of to operate safely?
- Can teachers, leaders, facilitators contact young people out of session time or only during certain hours?
- Can staff or volunteers ask young people to play Fortnite or Minecraft with them?
- Only official work email addresses can be used
- Staff and volunteers cannot be ‘friends’ with children and young people online
- What should a young person do if someone breaks the rules. Where do they go?
Remember to communicate the Code of Conduct or Online Guide with parents, children and young people in a way that they will understand. It is very important that children know:
- What the rules are and what to do if someone breaks the rules
- Who to contact if feeling unsafe
- How to give feedback about their experience with your online service.
3. Develop a social media and electronic communications policy
The Code of Conduct or Online Guide isn’t just for your staff, it needs to be communicated with parents and children and young people in a way that they will understand. It is very important that children know what the rules are and what to do if someone breaks the rules.
Develop or update a social media and electronic communications policy. This will give clarity to all involved around appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Be specific. Consider if staff and volunteers can ‘friend’ on social media, what email addresses can be used, what oversight is in place to check, what times are contact allowed?
4. Think about what child safety training has occurred previously
Think about what training has occurred previously. Has your organisation dedicated time to help staff and volunteers, children and young people and parents and carers understand online risks such as:
- Cyber safety
- Scams and phishing
If not, consider spending the first few sessions discussing these topics with children and young people and deciding how you can support parents to understand also.
5. Develop key pointers about expected behaviour in sessions
This might also be a new area for staff and volunteers and they may need help. I think we’ve all seen or even been in a few online fails these past weeks – do facilitators know how to turn off the group chat function? Or not be seen from the nostrils up?
How do we run a session? Develop a few key pointers for your children and young people about expected behaviour in sessions. Examples include:
- What makes you comfortable? Where will you feel best to learn/engage?
- No PJ’s to be worn, but casual clothes are fine
- Make sure your camera isn’t pointing to a bathroom door where someone might come out in a towel or where a baby may be changed*
- Can you see and be seen properly? Avoid having a bright light behind you or be in shadow
- No group chats
We are all working with what we have and a quiet space with a perfect view may not be possible for all children and young people.
6. Focus on your organisation’s bullying policy and promote kindness
This is the perfect time to also focus on your organisation’s bullying policy and to promote kindness. Remind children and young people to engage with each other positively and what they should do if they are receiving negative posts and comments from others.
7. Be prepared that children and young people may open up to you
What do we do if we are worried about our children and young people’s wellbeing when we connect with them? The wellbeing of children and young people will be tested during this time and having session leaders understand the importance of being able to check in with children and young people is important.
Keep ‘eyes on the child’ because not all children are safe at home. Isolation makes some vulnerable children more susceptible to harm. Be prepared that children and young people may open up to you about their worries. Do staff know how to respond?
It may help to provide staff and volunteers information about which human services or child protection services are continuing in your state and how they can help. Upskilling staff in this area may assist and also the promotion of the Kids Helpline https://kidshelpline.com.au/
Continuing and improving child safety at this time is paramount
A commitment to continuing and improving child safety at this time is paramount. The true test of an organisation’s safeguarding capabilities are if standards can be maintained and improved during challenging and uncertain times.
Child Wise is able to assist organisations with the development of a suite of policies and procedures. If you have any questions please feel free to contact one of our experts on 1300 CHILD WISE or firstname.lastname@example.org.