National research shows that online abuse, stalking and sexting are much more common place than we might imagine in the lives of Suffolk young people and a day-to-day danger. It is now common for those as young as eight and nine to have direct access to a smart phone or tablet computers, often using them with more technical competence than their parents, but this is not matched with the levels of life experience, needed to flag up the dangers they might be in.
Whether we like it or not, children live in an online world, parents need to understand that the threats could easily already be crossing the virtual threshold of their own family life. As much as a parent’s natural instinct is to protect their children, it is essential that young people are given the information they need to recognise the dangers for themselves. The Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, agreed to back Suffolk’s #StaySafeOnline Campaign with other key local stakeholders. He is providing funding for those in the voluntary sector to provide additional advice and support in partnership with schools and other trusted places where young people meet.
“I gave the initial grant of £100,000 for the start of an ongoing campaign, as I was seriously concerned at long term damage to our young people,” Tim Passmore explained. “It is important that primary school-aged children especially, know what the threats are, and about on-line etiquette, so they make the right choices online. It is also about ensuring that they don’t inadvertently get into trouble and do something than can affect their future job prospects. The really pleasing thing that with the eleven projects in this scheme we believe we will reach over 10,000 young people, and that can be multiplied many times over by the parents and foster carers who are also getting involved.”
In July 2017 the Stay Safe Online Fund was launched and Suffolk Constabulary, Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Community Foundation, the University of Suffolk and the East Anglian Daily Times came together to support the project and charities and community groups who work with young people were invited to apply for grants of up to £10,000.
Eleven projects were given grants in February this year, after submitting their ideas.
“The level and diversity of the applications was very encouraging,” said Andrea Pittock, the Head of Grant Programmes for Suffolk Community Foundation. “We have schools training young ambassadors, to specialist trainers being brought in and training existing staff. There’s a fantastic mix of projects tackling the issue of staying safe online in a variety of ways.
Representatives of the successful bids then attended the University of Suffolk’s Blurring Boundaries conference. Six months later, what has happened with some of the projects selected?
Access Community Trust in Lowestoft received their grant for a theatre project to address issues such as online bullying, stalking and sexting. They have been working with the theatre group, The Escapades and with young people from the project, Minding the Gap.
“It’s an interactive play and the audience will guide where the play will go. The scenes will change depending upon what they say, and there will also be workshops. We are keen to hear from other interested headteachers.”
The Bangladeshi Support Centre are running information sessions for parents and children and both, that have already been held, proved popular.
Mohammed Mainul Alam, the Joint Centre Manager, explained, “Parents thought their children were doing their homework online in their bedrooms, but discovered they had other windows open too. What really works well is having joint sessions with parents and their children learning together.”St Mary’s CEVAP School, Woodbridge used their grant to run a Stay Safe Online Programme, working with ChildNet.
‘’Ten children from Years 4 and 5 successfully completed an application process to become the school’s digital leaders, presenting information to their peers, parents and staff through blogs, posters and workshops,’’ said Kate Hayward-Brackenbury, teacher and computer lead.At Level Two in Felixstowe, the chosen staff have been trained and they will educate young people, parents, grandparents and carers in E-Safety.
‘’We know that children already have a vast amount of knowledge and awareness of how the internet and social media work, the positives, challenges and issues it can cause,” said Shez Hopkins, Project Manager, “Many are aware of the potential dangers, but still choose not to always keep themselves safe online. Much of our time will be spent delivering workshops, offering early interventions and exposing real life case studies for children and parents to show how online activities can quickly spiral out of control.’’
Ipswich Community Media have appointed an “online czar”, Alicia Durbin.
“We are all playing catch-up. Anyone over the age of thirteen really doesn’t understand the issues!”, said Alicia.
‘We are developing lesson plans for 150 youngsters who come to us each week for music, radio and filming, and for their parents too.’’
Suffolk Refugee Support needed to adapt their materials so they could be applied to their unique local circumstances.
The newly appointed Hidden Harms Officer, Michelle Francis, explains, “The eyes of the refugees and asylum seekers often widen when we talk about the dangers online,” she said, “As there are always problems around the different levels of language ability, I will be working with parents and children together.’’
The fund was launched following research by Professor Emma Bond an international expert in online safety from the University of Suffolk. Emma said “I am delighted to see the impact of fund from Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore. Along with Suffolk Community Foundation, this is a fantastic example of partnership working to protect children and young people and I hope that other organisations will see what can be achieved and fund further work as these issues are not going to disappear. New risks are emerging and we are only just beginning to recognise and respond to them”.
Our Head of Public Affairs, Tim Holder, explained that ‘increasingly we are seeing private and business philanthropy joining forces with the public and voluntary sector on projects that make a powerful difference in our communities. We have a very important project being developed currently by ‘Team Suffolk’ around preventing knife crime that has brought a variety of stakeholders together to fund, create and deliver it. The #StaySafeOnline project is just starting to fly and has made a great start, but this a social problem that we need to continue to support and it would be amazing to see new financial supporters coming forward to grow what this seed funding from our Police and Crime Commissioner has started. Suffolk Community Foundation would be delighted to hear from anyone interested in stepping up to the plate on this.’