County-wide campaign aims to raise awareness of online child exploitation

With a digital Halloween approaching due to Covid-19 restrictions, safeguarding partners across the county are joining forces once again to raise awareness about the dangers of online child exploitation.

Parents are being alerted to the possibility that children may take their seasonal celebrations online. This could result in sharing frightening content and peer pressure to undertake harmful online challenges.

Online exploitation has been a growing concern for several years, with the internet and social media becoming so integral to daily lives. For children, the internet has become the new classroom and playground, and this has been amplified during this year of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Sadly, there are people there that take advantage of this.

That is why the Essex Safeguarding Children Board (ESCB), alongside Southend and Thurrock Safeguarding Children Partnerships, are continuing their Child Exploitation Did You Know Campaign, working with local authorities, Essex Police and organisations including Brook, The 2 Johns, The Children’s Society, Barnardo’s and to raise awareness of the exploitation risks that an increased time on the internet can pose.

The social media campaign will run until Sunday October 25 and covers topics such as online gaming, youth involved sexual images and online bullying. It aims to challenge the perception that the victim is to blame; instead creating a supportive network around the child in which they feel able to speak openly about concerns they may have.

In addition to the campaign, the ESCB has teamed up with Brook Essex, which is running two Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) sessions aimed at parents, during the week of the campaign. These will be bookable online sessions about the importance of having conversations about healthy relationships. There will be a session for parents of primary students on Wednesday October 21 and for parents of secondary students on Thursday October 22.

David Archibald, ESCB Independent chair/facilitator on behalf of the Statutory Partners said: “Going online has become a way of life, with more of us using social media and mobile apps to communicate. For children, it has replaced meeting up with friends.

“Online exploitation is a horrific crime and can have a significant impact on the lives of the individuals, families and communities involved.

“I am pleased that we are continuing the Parents, Did You Know Campaign along with our partners to support parents to recognise the signs and talk to their children about the risks of online exploitation.

“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.”

The 2 Johns, E-Safety Training said: “Throughout lockdown our discussions with parents have highlighted an increasing number of difficult situations arising online that the parents have felt unable to deal with without support.

“We hope that through our involvement in this project we will be able to get our message out to more people and give them more confidence to deal with issues as they arise.”

The Essex Safeguarding Children Board website will have resources for professionals and those working with families to enable them to fully support children and parents. Parents can also follow the campaign on the ESCB Facebook page and Twitter account.

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]