“What would you do in their offline world?” is my first response when I am asked about an online safety dilemma with a young person by one of my foster carers. We then have an open conversation about what is in the child’s best interests, balancing risks and safeguarding with opportunities and freedom of expression. We use analogies where possible with the online/offline world and consider the child’s level of understanding and experiences. For our children looked after we also consider the child’s attachment needs alongside developmental needs, and eventually come to an answer to the original question.

I used to use the term ‘real life’ instead of ‘offline world’. But for children and young people who have never known a world before the internet, and now even before social media, this is their real world. Whilst many parents, carers and workers who can remember growing up without being attached to a smartphone, or even any form of mobile technology, have equally embraced the seamlessly connected and integrated on/off line world in which we now all live, connect through and increasingly shape its content.

This is an opportune thought ahead of this year’s Safer Internet Day which has the theme “Create, Connect and Share Respect: A better internet starts with you”.

I work as a social worker and trainer for The Foster Care Cooperative (FCC) and I am the agency’s e-safety specialist. I have been a social worker for 20 years, first in frontline local authority teams and I joined the team at FCC over 10 years ago. In 2012 I started delivering training courses for the agency and was interested in attending the CEOP ambassador course to find out more about keeping children safe online. This was the start of my e-safety role.

This role runs alongside my work as a supervising social worker. I create and deliver specialist training on online safety for foster carers and staff across the whole agency; including tailored workshops for birth children and foster children. Our continuing e-safety programme recognises that there are additional challenges, risks and opportunities for foster carers and all our children, for example with contact arrangements, sharing information and making parental decisions online. Managing social media accounts as part of internet use requires sensitivity and knowledge about the young person’s developmental and emotional needs.

FCC is proactive about online safety and this is embedded in our foster carers’ safer caring plans. I also deliver training on safer caring and recording skills, and believe an integrated approach to online safety is vital to good outcomes. Our safer caring plans consider risks and consents online, whilst recording training covers data protection and protecting a child’s identity through electronic recording and sharing of information. The new course for 2018 explores digital parenting styles, ‘sharenting’ and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) Online; which not only signposts to new information but provides parents and carers with space to reflect on their parenting, values and beliefs and if these are different in an off/online situation.

The ethos of FCC as a cooperative is also reflected in our commitment to online safety for all staff in the agency and the training programme includes a session on ‘Managing your own Professional Identity Online’, which has been attended by all social workers and office staff in the Malvern and Cardiff offices.

Since 2016 I have also been writing a monthly blog called “Understanding your Child’s Digital World”. This is available publically on the FCC website and is shared on our social media feeds. Each month there is a new topic which is current for young people online, and explores how this affects foster carers and children looked after. In 2017 the blogs included information about Live Streaming, Fake News and the viral #metoo campaign amongst other topics, and I have started 2018 with exploring Sharenting (https://t.co/m5TdzSr9JV) I am also delighted to write for other magazines online, and regularly contribute to DITTO magazine, which is a fantastic free education-focused resource for parents, carers and teachers (https://t.co/lRqb8V5rry).

I thoroughly enjoy my work as the e-safety specialist for FCC, and find this gives me a balance with all aspects of supporting our fantastic foster carers and young people. Safer internet Day 2018 asks us to Create, Connect and Share Respect for a better internet and here’s my pledge to promote this:

Create: Keep up to date with trends and knowledge and share this across the face-to-face training days and my online blog. Create a positive online footprint for my work. Write blogs and articles that stimulate thought and discussion.

Connect: Share with others as wide as we can; support anyone involved with fostering through sharing our knowledge on social media. Emphasise the importance of connecting through relationships and modelling trust, credibility and sincerely online.

Share Respect: Everyone in the agency has different expertise, knowledge and specialisms with online safety and we pool this knowledge, from technology to trends to apps for toddlers. There is an ethos of shared learning and values, all which come together to foster an ethos of online safety.

6 February 2018 is Safer Internet Day

Thanks to The Foster Care Co-operative