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4.3 Correspondence, Communication and Social Networking

REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS

The Children’s Views, Wishes and Feelings Standard
Regulation 7

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This Chapter applies to all forms of communication that children may have with others, including written correspondence, telecommunications, including all mobile communications and web or internet enabled communications, including Social Networking sites.

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

ACPO Lead Position on Self Taken Images

Child Safety Online: A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media

AMENDMENT

In November 2016, a link to Child Safety Online: A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media was added to this manual (above).


Contents

  1. Key Principles
  2. Placement Planning
  3. During the Placement
  4. Seizure and Confiscated Items
  5. Web Enabled or Internet Technology/Social Networking


1. Key Principles

Children should be supported and encouraged to maintain and develop family contacts and friendships, but this must be subject to any limitations or provisions set out in their care plan, placement plan and any court order.

The registered person (Home’s Manager) shall ensure that children are provided, at all reasonable times, with access to a telephone on which to make and receive telephone calls in private; and facilities to send and receive post and, if the necessary facilities are provided for the use of children accommodated in the home, electronic mail, in private.

However, Children do not have an absolute right to have access to these communications at all times; only at reasonable times. Also, there is an overriding responsibility upon Home’s Managers to take measures to protect Children, their staff and others from significant harm, injury and to prevent criminal offences from being committed. This can include the withdrawal or confiscation of mobiles and other devices, even those owned by the Child – if it can be shown that the mobile/device is being or may be used to place the Child or others (including staff) at risk. This could include the use of internet or social networking sites and the exchange of images/video clips or posting of them on such sites e.g. as a form or cyberbullying.

Also see Section 5, Web Enabled or Internet Technology/Social Networking.


2. Placement Planning

2.1 Planned Placements

As part of the placement process, Home’s Managers must ensure that consideration is given to whether Children are allowed to use the telephone, mobiles, computers, the internet or other forms of communication in order to have contact with their family, relatives or friends.

If there is any risk from such contacts or from the use of mobiles or other communications, this must be addressed and the arrangements or restrictions built in to the Child’s Placement Plan. This can include restrictions on carrying mobile phones and/or supervising Children when using them. However, if restrictions are imposed, the arrangements should be reviewed and the arrangements changed if the risks reduce.

2.2 Emergency Placements

If a Child is placed in an emergency, without the possibility of giving proper consideration to the risks that may be posed to the Child or others from having access to telephones, mobiles, the internet, computers or other communication, they will only be permitted to have supervised telephone contacts with family or friends and will not be permitted to retain mobile phones until a Emergency Review has been conducted (within 72 hours of the Child being placed) and a Placement Plan drawn up.


3. During the Placement

Children will have access to telephones, mobiles, computers or other forms of communication at reasonable times. However, they may only have computers or mobile phones if agreed by the social worker and the arrangements or any restrictions set out in their Placement Plan.

At any time, the Home’s Manager may withdraw use of mobile phones and other devices where it is considered that they are being used or may be used to place the Child or others at risk of Significant Harm, in order to cause serious damage to property or to commit a criminal offence. Preferably, withdrawal should be by agreement with the Child; if agreement is not forthcoming, the Home’s manager should apply the same principles as set out for searching a Child without consent, in Searching Children/Bedrooms Procedure.

At any time, if staff consider that a Child or others may be at risk from having access to telephones, mobiles, computers/the internet or other forms of communication, they must take steps to reduce or prevent the risk.

If the risk is of Significant Harm (including Cyberbullying), serious damage to property or of a criminal offence being committed, staff must consider withdrawal/confiscation. Preferably, withdrawal should be by agreement with the Child; if agreement is not forthcoming, the Home’s manager should apply the same principles as set out for searching a Child without consent, in Searching Children/Bedrooms Procedure.

If any such restrictions are imposed, the Home’s Manager and child’s social worker must be notified within 24 hours and consideration must be given to whether any ongoing restrictions should be imposed upon the Child; any arrangements for ongoing restrictions must be outlined in the Child’s Placement Plan.

If such exceptional action is taken, the child's social worker (and Support Worker if the child is in foster care) must be notified within 1 working day.

If a child is prevented from having access to a telephone, or access is reduced, it is deemed to be a Sanction, and must be recorded as such.


4. Seizure and Confiscated Items

As set out above, mobiles or other devices may be seized by staff if it can be shown that the mobile/device is being or may be used to place the Child or others (including staff) at risk of Significant Harm, this could include the use of internet or social networking sites and the exchange of images/video clips or posting of them on such sites e.g. as a form or cyberbullying. If items are seized, they must be passed to the Home’s Manager, who must record the seizure and come to a decision about whether to confiscate the device.

Confiscation is reasonable where the Home’s Manager considers that the device will be used in a manner which will place the Child or others at continuing risk of Significant Harm, in order to caused serious damage to property or if there is a suspicion that the device is not owned by the Child e.g. stolen. In such circumstances, the Home’s Manager should pass the device to the Police or keep it safely in the home.

If the device is owned by/the property of the Child, the Home’s Manager may retain it until satisfied that it will be used reasonably i.e. in a way that does not place the Child or others at risk.

If retained, the Home’s Manager should provide the Child with a receipt.


5. Web Enabled or Internet Technology/Social Networking

Children may not be given access to any form of web enabled or internet technology unless arrangements have been made to ensure that the exchange of information is filtered to protect the children and those being communicated with e.g. on 'social networking' (see definition in italics below) sites, from any illegal or potentially harmful images of information.

Children should not be permitted to use sites that are also used by adults unless a full risk assessment has been carried out, in consultation with the social worker and a reputable IT specialist and suitable arrangements put in place to protect the child and others. These arrangements must be outlined in the child's Placement Plan or in the Statement of Purpose for the home, and must be reviewed regularly or in the light of any incident or event which compromises the safety of the child.

Social networking sites are websites where you can create a profile all about yourself and contact other people. You can also upload photos, music and videos to share with other people, and on some sites, chat to other people on forums. Popular social networking websites include MySpace, Facebook, Habbo Hotel, Piczo and Bebo, but there are lots of others. They are used by people of all ages and some people have profiles on more than one website.

Social networking sites are often used by perpetrators as an easy way  to access children and young people for sexual abuse. The Serious Crime Act  (2015) has introduced an offence of sexual communication with a child. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under16 years of age. The Act also amended the Sex Offences Act 2003 so it is now an offence for an adult to arrange to meet with someone under 16 having communicated with them on just one occasion (previously it was on at least two occasions).

In addition radical and extremist groups may use social networking to attract children and young people into rigid and narrow ideologies that are intolerant of diversity: this is similar to the grooming process and exploits the same vulnerabilities. The groups concerned include those linked to extreme Islamist, or Far Right/Neo Nazi ideologies, Irish Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups, extremist Animal Rights groups and others who justify political, religious, sexist or racist violence. 

Children may be drawn to adopt a radical ideology through a failure to appreciate the bias in extremist material; in addition by repeated viewing of extreme content they may come to view it as normal.

‘Internet Abuse’ relates to four main areas of abuse to children:

  • Abusive images of children (although these are not confined to the Internet);
  • A child or young person being groomed for the purpose of Sexual Abuse;
  • Exposure to pornographic or other offensive material via the Internet; and
  • The use of the internet, and in particular social media, to engage children in extremist ideologies.

End