In the past four years, the number of children being groomed in Northern Ireland soared 1400%(1). Online sexual crimes against NI children have increased by almost 270% (2) in the same time period.
MPs have warned “…that illegal activity online, including child abuse, appears to be escalating” during the pandemic.(3)
The distraction of the pandemic has blunted the urgent calls to address the increased risk to NI children online.
To address the levels of risk to our children, last month the Department of Education Northern Ireland launched their Safer Schools NI App, a digital safeguarding tool kit for parents, carers and teachers.
The App will now be released to children and young people who will be able to access advice on a range of digital issues. This includes safety on social media platforms, bullying, sexting and online challenges. Pupils are to receive tailored content suitable to their year group.
The NCA estimates that a minimum of 300,000(4) individuals pose a sexual threat to children– with some discussing opportunities to abuse children in chat forums . As of 2016, there are around 1,500(5) registered sex offenders in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Education Safer Schools NI App has been provided in-kind by Belfast based Ineqe Safeguarding Group and is set to support over 340,000 pupils and their families.
83% of 12-15-year-olds own a mobile phone and 74% of those children are allowed to take it to bed with them.(7)
Jim Gamble QPM, online safeguarding expert and the force behind the Safer Schools app said:
“Even before the lockdown it was well understood that sexual offences against our children had seen a dramatic increase.
Children will now be spending more time online than ever before interacting with their real friends, friends of their friends (who they don’t really know) and absolute strangers.
It’s important not to create a culture of fear that there is a paedophile in every virtual space, but the current reality is most sex offenders are sitting at home, and most will have a computer.
This app provides everything a parent, carer or teacher needs to understand and respond to any potential risk online”.
Detective Chief Inspector Gary McDonald, from the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch, added that:
“Safeguarding children is a priority for Police Service NI. While maintaining contact with children may be a challenge for all organisations during these unprecedented times, every opportunity to keep children safe must be maximised.
This Safer Schools App is one example of how to keep children safe in the on-line environment, providing a full range of child protection advice for parents, carers and teachers. If you are concerned a child has been abused online contact the PSNI on 101, the non-emergency number, or in the event of an emergency dial 999.”
Colin Stitt Head of Safer Schools at Ineqe Safeguarding Group said:
“We’re seeing a large influx of schools in Northern Ireland contacting us about how they roll out the Department of Education Safer Schools NI app in their communities.
A number of them have expressed concern that online risks may be missed during the lockdown and that this will be a valuable resource to support school communities.
If you’re a school in NI, you can learn more by visiting www.ineqe.com/safer-schools-ni or emailing [email protected]”
Advice for parents on talking to their children about online risks:
1. Do your homework
Before talking to your child, do your homework with the DENI Safer Schools App. Research the issue or platform yourself so you have at least a basic knowledge to facilitate a conversation.
2. Have the conversation and discuss support
Open questions help keep conversations open and clear – ask ‘have you heard of this new app’ rather than ‘do you use this app’. Use these conversations to talk about staying safe and exploring what a child would do if they needed help (who could they talk to?).
3. Agree on boundaries and check-in regularly
Agree on boundaries and apply safety settings together (depending on age and understanding) you should check-in with your child regularly.
Colin Stitt from Ineqe Safeguarding Group available for Press on Friday 15th May
Via Facetime, Zoom, Skype or Phone.
Notes to Editor
– Information about how you can download and access the App is available for parents on our website and for staff by emailing [email protected]
For young people, they can be given access by their parent/carer or through their school
– Follow or Tweet us at @Ineqegroup
About Ineqe Safeguarding Group
Ineqe Safeguarding Group is a specialist safeguarding company that uses technological innovation and decades of safeguarding expertise to educate, empower and protect vulnerable children and adults. Notable clients include Oxfam, Safeguarding Board NI, HSCT, the Charity Commission and the Irish Football Association.
About the Safer Schools App
The App provides expert support on topics including sexting, bullying, mental health, media literacy, gaming and sexual exploitation online. It is hoped that the app will give school communities the information they need to combat abuse and protect children.
Crucially teachers have access to CPD courses to enhance their response to online risks and keep them ahead of the curve.
About Jim Gamble QPM
Jim Gamble QPM is the CEO of the Ineqe Safeguarding Group. He is widely recognised as a global authority on safeguarding children and was the founding chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce; a former national policing lead for child protection and the architect and CEO of the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. He has undertaken a number of safeguarding reviews, including the Brighton and Sussex University Hospital Trust and most recently the review of Oxfam GB.