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How to ensure safe and positive online experiences for children
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How to ensure safe and positive online experiences for children

This article, adapted from a UNICEF publication, outlines key considerations for keeping children safe online in the context of Covid-19

Keeping children safe online in the context of Covid-19 will require focused action by all. This article, adapted from the UNICEF publication Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and Its Implications for Protecting Children Online: A technical note from UNICEF and partners, outlines key considerations for keeping children safe online.

As child protection practitioners or humanitarian workers, before engaging in online activities we must:

1. Provide a safe online experience for children that are being engaged through online methods

In the context of Covid-19, keeping children safe online will require concerted, urgent action on the part of parents and caregivers, school authorities, digital technology companies, providers, social service workers and governments.

Organisations should create or update their current safeguarding policies to reflect the new realities for children being engaged remotely from home.

Specific online safeguarding considerations include:

  • Clearly communicating a staff and associates code of conduct for digital and online platforms and communications. The expectations for digital and online platforms and communications should be the same as for ‘in-person’ behaviour.
  • Regulating and ensuring transparency of one-on-one online interactions between staff members or associates and any child or children.
  • Widely sharing online participation schedules so the events can be appropriately monitored.
  • Refraining from using private instant messaging services in adult-child communications. If for some reason this is unavoidable, staff must seek consent from parents or caregivers to engage in such private exchanges.
  • Advising children to wear appropriate clothing when in front of webcams and to avoid connecting with adults from their bedrooms.
  • Ensuring that only authorised individuals are able to access online platforms and preventing those platforms from recording and storing the virtual sessions by default.
  • Monitoring and addressing negative online behaviour (i.e. preventing and responding to cyberbullying).
  • Moderating all websites, phone lines and platforms where children are commenting or sharing information, photos and stories to maximise safety and privacy, and to minimise risks.
  • Ensuring that procedures for reporting and responding to harm or abuse exist for each digital platform or product. These must take into account local laws, cultural norms and the availability of protection services. The implementation of these procedures should be supported by training, oversight and evaluation.
  • Ensuring children have access, where available, to online or phone-based counselling services or/and channels for seeking confidential support.
  • Clearly communicating online safety policies and providing resources and information on digital safety to support parents and caregivers in encouraging safe online experiences.

2. Empower children online

For example:

  • Provide basic information on how to navigate the online world safely.
  • Give children information in a way that reaches them and that they connect with.
  • Describe to children what forms of behaviour and what actions that occur online should be considered suspicious.
  • Provide children with a list of ‘safe’ sites and social media platforms for accessing information, exchanging with others, learning, playing and using media online.
  • Make sure that children know how to seek help if they feel at risk online.

3. Support parents and caregivers to help children stay safe online

To support safe online activity, parents and caregivers need to be aware of the online risks for children and also be informed of actions to take if something goes wrong. We can support parents by providing guidance and tools on:

  • What online behaviour is risky or suspicious.
  • How to respond to and report harmful contact, conduct and content.
  • How to discuss acceptable online interactions with children, including the fact that hurtful, discriminatory or inappropriate contact is never okay.
  • How to help children report inappropriate interaction (i.e. give children the confidence to tell a trusted adult immediately if anything distressing or inappropriate occurs).
  • How to set basic guidelines for how, when and where the internet can be used within and outside of the home.
  • How to set healthy boundaries to establish a balance between online time and other activities.
  • How to install software updates and antivirus programmes and to ensure that privacy settings are set to ‘high’.
  • How to use tools such as parental controls for younger children.
  • How to be alert to signs of distress that may emerge in connection with online activity.
  • Provide a list of ‘safe’ sites and social media platforms for accessing information, exchanging with others, learning, playing, and using media online.
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Protecting Children during COVID-19 and other Infectious Disease Outbreaks

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