As restrictions are lifted across Wales, it is clear that coronavirus (Covid-19) has transformed the way we do things in so many aspects of life. It is important to reflect on changes in how practitioners have engaged with young people and their families during this time, and on whether some of these changes should be retained in the post pandemic world.
To understand more about the way the sector responded to the pandemic in Wales, on the 5th June 2020, NSPCC brought together colleagues from social care, health, education, the youth sector, police and the third sector, to explore best practice in assessing and managing safeguarding risks digitally during COVID-19. We then developed advice and guidance on ways to minimise challenges and maximise new opportunities in how we support children utilising digital technology.
Our work clearly showed there can be benefits from using digital technologies to engage families.
Potential benefits to digital technology usage
- Conversations, therapeutic sessions and meetings held via phone or video call can seem less intimidating and intense than face-to-face meetings in an office or practitioners visiting someone’s home.
- Virtual working has in some cases enabled more playful interactions with children.
- Attending online child protection conferences can also be easier for parents and carers.
We must grasp the opportunity to really push forward these benefits. Digital technology opens doors to new ways to engage more people who need help and support, however there are also:
Potential barriers due to reliance on digital technology
- Not all families have access to online devices, broadband or stable internet connections
- Some parents may have the devices but cannot afford to keep them charged or pay for internet
- There can be fatigue with technology over time
- Issues of confidentiality – it is sometimes difficult to find a quiet, private place where they can’t be overheard
- Practitioners might find it difficult to prevent their own families, children or housemates from overhearing confidential and sensitive conversations
While it would be difficult, or even impossible, to eliminate every risks or downsides to using digital technology, we have developed a best practice guide to help practitioners moving forward.
- Drawing up a working agreement with children and families which includes information on the timing of sessions, where sessions should take place and how to manage confidentiality
- Using hybrid models to allow children and families to express themselves. For example, using a combination of video calls with phone calls and texting. This is especially relevant in the context of reopening and the need for blended delivery.
- Practitioners can discuss the importance of maintaining confidentiality at the start of sessions, and should address any issues sensitively and aware of their language.
- Updated risk assessments can be used to address any new issues arising from the use of digital technology.
- Organisations should consider supplying practitioners with headsets and providing their own best practice guidance for practitioners working from home.
Beyond empowering practitioners, our roundtable discussion highlighted other key principles to take forward. Online child abuse has never been such a significant problem. Children are accessing the internet at an increasingly young age and we must not only educate children on how to be safe online, but also empower them to report or share with others when they do not feel safe or something has happened.
We also need to focus on how to help children safely re-emerge from lockdown into physical play while providing them with space and time to emotionally recover from what has been an incredibly difficult time.