The summer holidays are fast approaching and while more time may be spent outside away from screens, it’s important to remember that the risk of online harm and child exploitation doesn’t disappear.
Parents and carers should remain aware of their child’s internet use over the summer - as much as any other time of year. Child exploitation and grooming often starts with contact on social media. Any child is at risk and it's important to remember that both boys and girls can be groomed. This is why it’s vital that everyone knows how to spot the signs and knows what to do if they suspect abuse.
Children may see friends less over the holidays due to other family commitments and if they’re feeling isolated, they may turn increasingly to their devices. This could increase the risk of online harms such as grooming, accessing inappropriate gaming and chat forums, as well as affecting their emotional wellbeing.
From the 10-16 July the Essex Safeguarding Children Board (ESCB) and partners are encouraging people across Essex to take part in sharing messages about online safety across social media. The week of activity will cover topics including youth involved sexual images, online gaming and online safety for pre-schoolers. There will be information on how to support young people to have healthy relationships in a digital world and the importance of supporting them to understand the dangers that technology can present with relationships.
The ESCB website has resources for parents, carers and professionals including podcasts, videos, how to report concerns and information about spotting the signs of exploitation.
It is important to remember that exploitation is not the child’s fault and they are never to blame. By creating a supportive environment, where online safety is discussed in the same way as road safety or stranger danger, children may feel able to speak more openly about any concerns they may have.
David Archibald, ESCB Independent Chair/Facilitator on behalf of the Statutory Partners said: “I would encourage all parents and carers, no matter how tech savvy they think they are, to double check that their children’s devices have the correct parental controls and to have a discussion with their children about the importance of safe internet use – take an interest in what games they are playing and try to understand their online world.
“Online exploitation is a horrific crime and can have a significant impact on the lives of the individuals, families and communities involved. Together we can support children and parents to be aware of the dangers and know there is someone to talk to if they’re concerned.”
Concerns about child exploitation can be reported anonymously via Crimestoppers 0800 555111. There is also a dedicated Essex Police Child Exploitation hotline - for parents, carers and members of the public to seek advice around concerns they may have about their own or other children with regards to criminal and sexual exploitation: 01245 452058.