The internet can provide children and young people with important connections and a sense of acceptance and belonging within a range of communities. But unfortunately those living in out-of-home care can be at greater risk of online harms.
Factors such as life disruptions, the impacts of trauma or a tendency toward high-risk behaviours can mean these children and young people are more likely to experience:
- exposure to age-inappropriate content including violent or sexualised photos and videos
- unsafe contact with strangers
- online grooming and abuse by sexual predators.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that children in out-of-home care are at greater risk of being targeted by adult sexual predators. It’s common for these adults to use online platforms to contact and abuse them.
It can be challenging to keep ahead of online safety risks so you can support and protect children in foster care, group homes or residential care. Being responsible for providing online safety guidance and encouraging them to follow it can seem daunting – especially when you also have to steer them through daily activities and complex family circumstances.
As a trusted person in their lives, one of the most important ways you can support children and young people is by letting them know they can come to you for help if they ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe online.
So the eSafety website has lots of information about the risks to look out for, how to help prevent them, how to report incidents and how to support children and young people if they have been harmed.
Reporting and supporting
Children and young people in care can be at risk of cyberbullying because others see them as ‘different’. The cyberbullying can include many types of behaviour, such as posting hurtful or humiliating content or comments about them, spreading nasty online gossip, or excluding them online. Changing schools and living arrangements a lot makes it hard to build the connections and friendships that can help children avoid or deal with cyberbullying.
The first thing to do is help the child report the cyberbullying directly to the social media service where it’s happening – you can find links to most in The eSafety Guide. If you are unsatisfied with the response, you can help them report serious cyberbullying to eSafety, or if you have their permission you can lodge the complaint on their behalf.
Image-based abuse means sharing or threatening to share an intimate image or video of a person without their consent. This can include photos, screenshots and photoshopped or fake content. Anyone can be abused this way, but young women are often targeted. They may have shared nudes or sexualised shots with someone willingly at first, or they may have been pressured into sending them. Young people may be less likely to refuse the request if the attention makes them feel good, especially if they have a limited understanding of healthy relationships.
If the person threatening to share the content says they will only stop if money or more intimate shots are sent to them, this is a type of image-based abuse called ‘sextortion’.
If someone has shared or threatened to share an intimate image or video of a young person in your care, make it clear to the young person that it’s not their fault. Let them know they deserve to have healthy relationships that are based on trust and respect. Have the online content removed by helping them report it straightaway to eSafety’s image-based abuse team.
Unwanted or unsafe online contact
One of the most unsafe types of contact is ‘grooming’. This is when a sexual predator contacts and builds a friendship with a child to gain their trust, to sexually abuse them. The person can be a stranger or someone known to the child. The child may welcome the attention at first and not realise when it becomes unsafe.
Grooming can happen online through social media, gaming and other accounts that allow public or private contact. The predator may arrange to meet the child offline, then sexually abuse them in person. Or they may sexually abuse them online through explicit conversations, photos, videos or live webcam footage.
If someone in your care is in danger now, call Tripe Zero (000) immediately.
If someone is making a child in your care feel uncomfortable or scared online, help them collect evidence then block the person and report them to the site. If you suspect the child is being groomed or sexually abused online reassure them that they are not in trouble, then report it to the site and to the Australian Federal Police via the ThinkUKnow website.
If you or anyone in your care finds online content that shows child sexual abuse, contact our Cyber Report team who can investigate and remove it. This helps combat the trade in child sexual abuse material and the revictimisation of survivors.
There are many counselling and support services available to help children and young people who are experiencing or impacted by online abuse.
Counselling and support
5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 24/7, 365 days a year.
12 to 25 year olds. All issues. Phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 9am to 1am EST daily.
eSafety offers online safety training for professionals who work with young people, including those in out-of-home care. This includes youth workers, social workers, counsellors and psychologists.
The training covers:
- online safety issues such as cyberbullying, online pornography, sending nudes and sexting, time online, gaming and unsafe contact
- eSafety’s powers to have serious cyberbullying, image-based abuse and child sexual abuse material removed online
- resources to support the online wellbeing of young people.
The Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) was awarded funding as part of the 2020-2021 Online Safety Grants Program. ACWA will develop and deliver co-designed online training resources for children and young people in out-of-home care and their caregivers. More information about this project can be found at eSafety Round 1 Grants 2020.
To further support the sector, eSafety is developing tailored advice for out-of-home carers and support workers, along with tools for recording and responding to incidents. This will include advice on how to address online incidents, how to effectively engage with young people about online safety, and how to manage device use in out-of-home living arrangements.