Kay Stewart discusses safeguarding children in digital environments

Prior to delving deep into the potential hazards, children may experience when using the internet, one should take the time to give thought to the likely warning signs that a child is suffering whilst engaging in online activities. Primarily, the preventative action has far greater success than any resolutory action therefore it is vital to engage in a child’s online activity to fetter possibilities of harm. Not taking for granted, despite one providing the utmost support and care to their child’s digital environment, it is inescapable that nefarious incidents occur.

Minors, regardless of whether they are at the pre-pubescent stage or further into their teenage years, often find hardship in addressing these issues with adults or their peers. It more often than not brings further discomfort to the children opening up about an incident or series of incidents where their own behaviour may have been less than favourable to the public opinion. With a mixture of emotions including fear, embarrassment, guilt, and shame frequently taking centre stage in these matters, children regularly hide inappropriate behaviour both online and in the real world to avoid those feelings becoming known to their loved ones. With online education becoming more prominent in children’s lives, the lack of physically attending school creates further obstacles in identifying potential issues. A major identifier may be a child’s change of behaviour, in some instances, a child may become increasingly withdrawn, or on the contrary, they may experience unexplained bursts of anger.

With greater pressure placed on schools to safeguard children whilst in their care, regardless of whether this is online or in person, it is vital that education institutions are prudent in their recruitment practices. This is predominantly done by ensuring each employee has the relevant DBS checks completed in addition to the optional extra of providing supplementary training to all employees to assist in identifying potential warning signs of online abuse or other inappropriate behaviour.

Identifying triggers may not only be present in the victim’s behaviour, but also in the attacker’s behaviour. Where children are found to be bullying other children, whether it be online or physically, schools have a duty to safeguard all children and must ensure the necessary steps are taken to do so. With clear anti-bullying policies available to students and parents and offered on the school’s website, all stakeholders of a school community should be aware of the terms of the policy and the consequences of not abiding by it.

Where bullying starts within a school, teachers and support staff are arguably more likely to be in a position to prevent the action from taking place if they are aware of what signs to look out for. Where inappropriate safeguarding practices are in place, and a child suffers as a consequence, it is possible for the school together with the relevant local authority to bear part or all of the blame and may in fact have legal action taken against them for failing to have adequate safeguards in place.

For further information on this topic or on any other legal area, please contact John Szepietowski or Kay Stewart at Audley Chaucer Solicitors on 01372 303444 or email admin@audleychaucer.com or visit our Linkedin page.

Larissa Bourgi

This information was correct as of September 2021

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