Tips on how to stay safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic

Working alone with children — online

Allowing staff to work alone online with children and young people (1:1) requires each school or organisation to consider its own needs and context.

It is generally recommended that adults who work with children in person should do so in open, public spaces with clear lines of sight to others, to minimise the risk of inappropriate contact or abuse. Similarly, eSafety recommends that staff avoid 1:1 interaction with students via live video or audio, where possible. There may be exceptions to this, for example some staff such as counsellors or psychologists, careers advisors or music teachers may require 1:1 contact with young people on an occasional or regular basis.

The following advice should be read in conjunction with your school’s or organisation’s policies on working alone with children, your relevant professional code of conduct and departmental or authority guidance.

eSafety has the following checklists, guides and references that may assist in developing your guidance for working alone online.

 Additional safeguards for working 1:1 with students include ensuring:

  • clear documentation, scheduling and behavioural expectations
  • authorisation by a school or organisation leader
  • parent or carer consent, and preferably a responsible adult at home at the time
  • availability of a contact person in case either participant has concerns during the session. 

If your organisation does not have a policy that directly addresses working alone with children you can either develop a new policy or strengthen an existing one, such as your Child Protection policy. The Australian Human Rights Commission has a suggested Child Safety and Wellbeing policy template that you can use.

In addition, we suggest you read eSafety’s blogpost on 5 steps to keep students safe during online learning, which covers some general issues that need to be considered when assessing and responding to online learning risks. Our tips for using online collaboration tools also provide important safety information for setting up online contact. 

Key considerations when working online 1:1

Staff training

Ensure that all staff have been trained in:

  • child protection related to online delivery — see details of eSafety's Child safety and online learning webinar.
  • the guidelines and processes to deal with any negative online issues (for example, cyberbullying, image based abuse, unwanted contact with strangers, exposure to inappropriate content)
  • how to identify and report when a child is at risk of harm or has been harmed online
  • how to respond to a disclosure that a child has experienced or is at risk of harm
  • mandatory reporting and child protection reporting obligations in the relevant jurisdiction(s)
  • how to safely use online collaboration platforms and mitigate harms.

Choosing an appropriate platform 

  • Has the proposed technology platform been assessed for safety, privacy and security risks and endorsed by your school or organisation? 
  • Do the terms of service allow children in the relevant age group to join?
  • Do  participants need to use personal identifiers? If so, do personal identifiers become linked with the use of the technology platform or any other data? 
  • Will interacting on the platform give you and the child access to each other's profiles, photos and other information that you may not want accessible?
  • Are you familiar with the safety and privacy settings and have you ensured that you and the child have set these appropriately?
  • Do you know where and how the data is stored and who can access it?

Risk assessment

1. Consider these questions before deciding if a 1:1 online meeting or lesson is the best option:

  • Under what circumstances is a 1:1 online meeting/lesson permitted?
  • Who can authorise 1:1 contact with a child?
  • What parental or carer consent is required?
  • Would it be appropriate and/or necessary to use the video function for the meeting/lesson?
  • Would it be appropriate and/or necessary to record the meeting/lesson, and would any notes be required? 
  • According to your policies, what general safeguards are required to be implemented prior to any online contact?
  • According to your policies, what general safeguards are required to be implemented prior to any 1:1 contact?

2. Conduct an initial risk assessment of the proposed 1:1 online meeting or lesson:

  • Ensure anyone providing online services to children and young people has a working with children check in the relevant jurisdiction(s).
  • Identify anything that may cause an injury or other harm. Consider appropriate meeting spaces for an interaction with a child. For example, an adult should not be sitting on a bed during a video call and a child should not be in a close bedroom. For physical activities such as a dance lesson, a kitchen may not be a suitable location for the child.
  • Determine who, if anyone, may be harmed, how they may be harmed, any predictable impacts of this harm and safeguards to minimise harm — for example, if a third party gained unauthorised access to your meeting and the child was exposed to inappropriate content or behaviour.
  • Assess the likelihood of the identified risks occurring according to the standard categories of low, medium and high risk. 
  • Document the required actions to mitigate each risk.

       Example mitigation strategies: 

  • Keep personal and work devices separate, to ensure that any personal photos, web browsing history and similar content or information are not linked with the device being used in the meeting. 
  • If the video function is essential, consider what safeguards need to be in place. One option may be to display the instructor’s/teacher’s video and disable the participant’s camera for part or all of the session.  
  • If the meeting/lesson is recorded, consider what safeguards should be implemented for storage and access to the material. One option may be that all recordings are uploaded to a secure file storage platform accessible to your organisation’s supervisors.

3. Consider these further questions before conducting the meeting or lesson:

  • Can supervisors access documented appointments, contacts and interactions in advance, including date, time and reason for contact? 
  • How has informed parental or carer consent been obtained? Were both written and verbal consent required? 
  • Has the purpose of the meeting/lesson been communicated to all parties?
  • Has an outline of what will happen during the meeting/lesson, the length of the meeting/lesson and specific timing been documented and communicated to all parties?
  • Have any safeguarding measures and their purpose been communicated to all parties?
  • Are all parties aware of the reporting pathways (both internal and external) if there are any issues during the meeting/lesson? 
  • Have behavioural expectations been communicated to all parties?  
  • Have all parties agreed on how confidentiality, privacy and any sharing of information will be handled?
  • Does the parent/carer need to be sighted at the start of the meeting/lesson? 
  • Can the parent/carer or other people be present during the meeting/lesson and has the instructor/teacher given their consent? 
  • Is the instructor/teacher allowed to have anyone else present during the meeting/lesson and has the young person and their parent/carer given their consent?
  • Does the school or organisation and instructor/teacher have emergency contact details for the young person and their parent/carer? 

Recording information

Always keep written notes and other evidence of any issues and concerns.

Refer to eSafety's Guide to responding to the sharing of explicit material and the Guide to serious online safety incidents.

Know your organisation’s procedures for reporting incidents, notifying parents, child follow up and support pathways available.

Supporting wellbeing

Preparing for emergencies

Know what to do and who to contact if there are concerns about a child or young person’s immediate safety or wellbeing.

Check you have obtained key details including:

  • a phone number or other means of contacting the young person
  • a phone number or other means of contacting their parent/carer
  • the young person's home address (to send help in the event of any injury or imminent risk) 
  • any existing health or medical needs
  • contact details for their GP and/or mental health practitioner/s
  • other contacts such as informal carers if relevant.

Please note that these details are sensitive personal information, so they need to be collected and stored in line with relevant privacy laws and policies. 

Call Triple Zero (000) if a student is in immediate danger. If it is not an emergency but their personal safety is at risk, call the Police Assistance Line on 131 444 or contact your local police station.

Remember to communicate with internal and external support services when appropriate, including child protection agencies.

Disclaimer

This material is general in nature. It is made available on the understanding that the Commonwealth is not engaged in rendering professional advice. Before relying on the material in any matter, you should carefully evaluate its accuracy, currency, completeness and relevance for your purposes and should obtain any appropriate professional advice relevant to your particular circumstances. The Commonwealth does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any material contained in this resource or on any linked site. References to other organisations or websites are inserted for convenience and do not constitute endorsement.

 

First published: 13 May 2020

Updated: 19 May 2020