Project to keep children safe online launched in Kirklees
July 01, 2020
The Marie Collins Foundation has launched a pilot initiative in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, to raise awareness about the increased risks to young people spending time online during the coronavirus lockdown.
The information being shared with parents and young people, schools and safeguarding professionals following Kirklees’s annual Safeguarding Week, is in response to concerns about children’s safety in the light of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Experts fear that as schools remain closed to the majority of pupils, and young people spend more time online, they could be at increased risk of harm associated with online sexual abuse, exploitation and grooming.
The campaign spells out the risks, literally – C (Children) O (Online are) V (Vulnerable to) I (Internet) D (Dangers) – and points people where to get help.
The Marie Collins Foundation (MCF), a North Yorkshire-based charity with expertise in the field of online child sexual abuse, is working in partnership with West Yorkshire Police, Kirklees Safeguarding Children Partnership and Kirklees Council Education to ensure that children are better safeguarded whilst living under lockdown conditions.
The service is being funded with a grant from the Safer Communities Fund which is run by Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
CEO of the Marie Collins Foundation, Tink Palmer MBE, said: “Those of us working in this field day in, day out are concerned that children could be at increased risk at this time. We are not saying children in Kirklees are at greater risk than anywhere else, but our police and safeguarding partners in the district are being proactive and are keen to work with us to protect children.
“Together we aim to offer increased awareness and safeguards to the children who attend the 35 high schools as well as independent schools and youth organisations in the area, especially those who are currently shielding and learning from home.”
In March, the National Crime Agency highlighted that increased use of the internet prompted by lockdown increased the potential vulnerability of children. Social isolation may lead them to seek friends online thus increasing their vulnerability to those intent on harming children.
Mrs Palmer added: “Schools following government guidance remain closed for the majority of children, yet parents and carers are beginning to return to work. An outcome of this could be lower levels of supervision of children.
“The fear is that this leads to increased incidence of self-generated sexual imagery being posted online and an amplified risk of grooming from predators.
“It is critical that everyone is aware of the risks and, importantly, that they know where to get help. Through our email@example.com facility children, parents and carers or teachers can seek support from our expert practitioners.”
Mark Burns-Williamson OBE, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), said: “I was delighted to be able to provide a grant for this partnership project from my recent extraordinary Safer Communities Fund round, made up from Proceeds of Crime monies recovered by police and prosecutors and a key commitment I made when elected as PCC. The recent grant round had a specific focus on helping support communities locally with the impact of COVID-19 and online safety is one of the key areas identified.
“It’s fantastic to see this project launched throughout West Yorkshire and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of these new resources to help keep young people safe online. I will continue to link in and support the project however I can, and I look forward to seeing how it progresses and the difference it will make.”
Detective Inspector Alex Bacon, of the Kirklees Child Safeguarding Unit, added: “Kirklees safeguarding officers welcome all opportunities to work with partners both during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards to support children in staying safe in the online environment where they can be vulnerable to abuse.
“West Yorkshire Police continues to run its own Who are you really talking to? and Your Child campaigns to help teenagers and parents recognise the signs of online abuse, and initiatives such as The Marie Collins Foundation campaign support and complement our ongoing initiatives.
“We would always encourage anyone who has information about child sexual exploitation of any kind in West Yorkshire to contact the police on 101 or online at www.westyorkshire.police.uk/10... livechat to allow us to investigate and act to protect those at risk.”
Cllr Viv Kendrick, Kirklees Cabinet member for Children, said: “Keeping children and young people safe, including online, is vital in supporting local families.
“As a council we already carry out a wide range of work to promote online safety, but the dangers have been highlighted more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic when we know many children are spending more time online.
“We are pleased to be working with our partners to continue tackling this very important issue. Helping children and young people to stay safe and have the best start in life is an absolute priority.”
Any adult concerned about a child who has been harmed or may be at risk of online sexual abuse, or a child worried about something someone is asking them or a friend to do online, is urged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an emergency or if someone is at risk now, the advice is to call the police on 999.