While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the safety and wellbeing of young people, close collaboration between those responsible for safeguarding is fundamental for success.

It is clear that the measures to contain the coronavirus disease are having a lasting impact, particularly on more vulnerable children and young people.  Online behaviour trends and patterns have changed and so have the predominant online safeguarding risks that children and young people are exposed to.  Those responsible for their safety, welfare and wellbeing must continue to work together to be successful.

During the initial period of school closures in 2020, the eSafe team reported a significant rise in the number of young people chatting to strangers, on websites like Omegle, Discord and Moviestar, as well as on social media platforms.  While this behaviour may be regarded as 'low level',  we frequently see this as a pathway to a range of serious and illegal behaviours, evidenced by the parallel surges in incidents of grooming and sexual abuse, gang crime, drug abuse and extremism, also detected since March 2020.  To avoid these outcomes, visibility of the behaviour is needed so that vital intervention can happen.

Similarly, the huge surge in the consumption of pornography, the team also reported throughout the first lockdown period, presents potential issues for children and young people as they adapt to life now that they've discovered this potentially addictive 'past-time' - in the short, medium and long-term - specifically around relationships and sexual expectations as they grow and develop.  Increasingly recognised by experts as contributing to mental health problems, this behaviour has also been linked with child abuse in the long-term. Tackling the early behaviour is so important to mitigate these risks.

With schools once again closed for a long period, routines broken and vulnerable young people at heightened risk of harm, the team at eSafe continues to work tirelessly to find the first signs of safeguarding risk.  While we know our work to be hugely important and the cornerstone of successful safeguarding - it gives visibility to the risk so action can be taken - it can never be enough on it's own. Successful safeguarding needs all parties to work together towards the common goal of keeping the young people in their care safe from harm.

Multi-agency collaboration is so important when it comes to successful safeguarding.

It is vital that those responsible for safeguarding children and young people work together to gain a full overview of the situation, share information and collaborate in order to fully understand the risks they may be exposed to - and coordinate to take appropriate action and keep them safe.  Planning to promote their safety, welfare and wellbeing is more challenging in the context of COVID-19: yet, when done effectively, this will avoid serious child safeguarding cases which raise important issues in relation to the local authority and school or college in question.

Of course, there is a much greater chance of positive outcomes when intervention happens quickly.  eSafe gives the early visibility of safeguarding risks that school and college leaders have to have in order to do this and to create a safe and positive environment.  If you'd like a chat about how eSafe can help your school or college thrive, contact us here.

"In 2020, when young people experienced new-found freedom to explore the internet –safeguarding trends changed significantly.  Now, we've entered a further period of school closures, online behaviours will continue to evolve and present an array of new challenges for those responsible for safeguarding."

Mark Donkersley -  CEO, eSafe Global

eSafe has a unique ‘window’ into the mental health and wellbeing of young people and our dedicated team makes it their business to understand how national behaviour patterns change and evolve over time.

Useful resources

UK Safer Internet Centre provides a series of  free lesson plans and classroom guidance to help teach young people to stay safe online.

Tes provides a series of planning resources for the PSHE/RSE curriculum, including: 

The case histories below demonstrate how eSafe is collaborating with schools, colleges and outside agencies to keep monitored users safe from harm....

Note: these are based on real events but details have been changed for privacy reasons.

Case history #1.

'Stranger Danger': the internet gives easy access to predators.

The following sequence highlights the inherent risks of platforms like Emerald Chat, that are designed to get strangers talking, as well as the relative ease and speed predators can access young people online.  It also demonstrates how eSafe can detect the earliest warning signs of risk to safety and wellbeing - enabling rapid intervention and behaviour modification. 

23.06.20 - 1800 hrs: eSafe captures a suspicious incident on Emerald Chat.  The monitored user is asked "are you alone?". 

23.06.20 - 1810 hrs: eSafe detects a search on Google, by the same user:  "how put a video on Emerald Chat?"

23.06.20 - 1812 hrs: eSafe's Pure Image Detection technology captures inappropriate behaviour from the same user, as they expose themselves in a sexual manner to the stranger over video chat on Emerald.  The eSafe behaviour analyst assesses this as potentially illegal and escalates this immediately, in real-time, directly to the school's DSL by phone and by email

23.06.20 - 1820 hrs: the school contacts the parents who intervene quickly to stop the behaviour.

24.06.20 - the school counsellor meets with the user to understand the behaviour and devise an intervention plan.

 

Case history #2. 

'Joining the dots' to accurately asses the risk.

This sequence demonstrates the importance of 'joining the dots' when monitoring digital behaviour - and eSafe's ability to help schools and colleges tackle serious mental health issues.

06.07.20 - 1100 hrs: eSafe detects a college user Googling "ways to hurt myself".

06.07.20 - 1110 hrs: eSafe detects the same user searching for bridges in the local area.  This, together with the previous incident, results in the behaviour analyst assessing it as a potentially 'life threatening' incident for immediate escalation.

eSafe escalates both incidents as a priority, in real-time, by phone call and by email, to the college's safeguarding officer.

06.07.20 - 1130hrs: the college's safeguarding officer alerts the police who attended the property.

The student was revealed to be at high-risk.

The college has since put in place an intervention plan, giving the student much needed counselling and support. 

Case history #3.

Serious risks are often only evident in imagery alone.
This following incident took place on a device supplied through the Department for Education's 'Get Help with Technology' scheme.     

eSafe captured the illegal webcam activity when a child user exposed themselves on Omegle*, having being encouraged by an adult they had been paired with. 

As a criminal act had occurred, and eSafe was able to provide the incriminating evidence, the school alerted the local constabulary and this is now being handled by the police.

*Omegle is a popular video chat service that randomly pairs users in one-to-one sessions.

Case history #4.

Specialist review of seemingly 'low level' risk markers is vital as it can reveal serious risk. 

During lockdown, physical abuse of children soared, with a 53% rise in cases in England.**

In this example, eSafe specialist review of a chat sequence on Facebook Messenger suggested evidence of physical abuse of the user during the lockdown.  The school was alerted but had no previous safeguarding concerns recorded for the user.

Following the eSafe alert, a welfare check revealed physical abuse by the father.  The MASH team was engaged and an intervention plan was put in place to support the young person.

**NSPCC, 2020