Online Safety and Cybercrime

Safeguarding Network

February 2024 - 9 minute read

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Online safety is an umbrella term for promoting the safeguarding of children and young people when using any device over the internet. The online world can add great value to the personal lives and education of children and young people, but it also presents risks and threats. Technology is always evolving, and with developments in virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI), there are major shifts in how young people interact with the world.

Many adults believe that young people know more about technology than them, but there’s more to technology than the technology itself. The internet, now more than ever, is about relationships, choices and respect. Its proper usage requires wisdom, positive personal values, emotional intelligence and self-reflection. This is where all settings working with children and young people, regardless of age, can take a lead.

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Research by the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC) suggests young people are excited about the changes in technology, but also feel they need more conversations and support regarding staying safe online.

  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of parents and carers, and just under half (45%) of children have worries about safety as developments with artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and new social media apps continue to accelerate.
  • While 70% of young people say they’re excited about the potential of generative AI (genAI) to improve their lives, over half (53%) of children who have used genAI have seen their peers use it negatively.

80% of children and young people think that young people should be listened to more about changes in technology, such as how it can remain safe. 


Definition of online safety

“Online safety is being aware of the nature of the possible threats that you could encounter whilst engaging in activity through the internet.”

Keeping Children Safe in Education

Definition of online abuse

“Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the internet. It can happen across any device that’s connected to the web, like computers, tablets and mobile phones.”


Definition of cybercrime

“Cybercrime is criminal activity committed using computers and/or the internet. It is broadly categorised as either ‘cyber-enabled’ (crimes that can happen off-line but are enabled at scale and at speed on-line) or ‘cyber dependent’ (crimes that can be committed only by using a computer).”

Keeping Children Safe in Education

Knowing their world

It is not only computers and laptops that are internet enabled – other devices such as smart speakers, wearables (e.g., smart watches), toys with voice or image recognition, robots, drones and other mechanical toys, smart TVs, games consoles, are as well. Children can use them access to chat rooms, pornography and other sites where they may be at risk. Many of these platforms, and the chat groups within them, are invisible to adults who may not be made aware of what is being posted online until they receive a disclosure. In this digital age, online safety is a concern for all who work with, or are parents/carers of, children and young people.

Pre-school age children may not have access to internet enabled devices in their education setting, but they will do at home. It is therefore important that early years settings, as well as schools and colleges, model and educate about safe use of the internet, embedding good understanding and safe practice from the start.

Online culture

Sometimes when thinking about online safety, we focus on risks/harms such as cyberbullying, sharing nude/semi-nude images, child exploitation, cybercrime and radicalisation, etc. However, we also know that the online world can compromise the well-being of an individual in terms of sleep, self-esteem, confidence, peer pressure and the fear of missing out. Opening conversations around children and young people’s lived experience in their families, education settings and communities can create opportunities to help.  

Think about the culture around online life within your setting:

  • Do children/young people feel under pressure to reply on social media throughout the night?
  • Is their body confidence being compromised? 
  • What is the conversation around vloggers/influencers/photo-filter usage, etc? 
  • Are older siblings/relations/friends allowing internet access to younger children, either deliberately or inadvertently? 
  • Are children making in-app purchases (accidentally or on purpose) without consent of parents? (Pre-school children understand more about how to work devices than many people, including their parents.) 

Types of risk/harm

The number of online issues that could be regarded as harmful is considerable, but they can be categorised into four areas of risk:  

  • Content: exposure to illegal, inappropriate or harmful materials, e.g., pornography, fake news, racism, misogyny, self-harm, eating disorders, suicide, radicalisation and extremism. Even pre-school children may come across such content – especially on devices with voice-activated search enabled.
  • Contact: being subjected to harmful online interactions with other users, e.g., peer pressure; cyberbullying; adults posing as children or young adults with the intention to groom or exploit them for sexual, criminal, financial or other purposes; sexual abuse, for example, non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at (or in the production of) sexual images, watching sexual activities and encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.
  • Conduct: personal online behaviour that increases the likelihood of/causes harm, e.g., making (including AI-generated), sending and receiving consensual and non-consensual nudes and semi-nudes and/or pornography; sending sexually explicit messages; cyberbullying; allowing apps/websites to access location; accidentally sending inappropriate and/or indecent images and information to a device’s contact list;  obsessive use of the internet and ICT, for example, addiction to video games, social media self-image and number of likes; exposure to/creation of hate mail or offensive images, game hacking, device crashing, stalking, harassment, videoing/livestreaming assaults.
  • Commerce: finance-based risks (both as victims and perpetrators), e.g., online gambling; in-game spending; inappropriate advertising; phishing and/or financial exploitation e.g., being persuaded or tricked into ‘money muling’ or ‘squaring’ (moving someone else’s money through your bank account for a commission); copyright infringement, for example, the illegal sharing of music, pictures, videos or documents.

Online abuse is any abuse (such as bullying, grooming, exposure to pornographic and extremist materials, radicalisation and sexual/criminal exploitation) that is carried out using internet-connected technology. Online abuse may take place through social media, messaging apps, emails, online gaming, live-streaming sites or other channels of digital communication. Children who are abused offline may be re-victimised online if their abuse is live-streamed or recorded and posted online. 

Spot the signs

It’s not always easy to spot the signs of online abuse/crime or a lack of understanding of online safety. They may include:

  • spending much more or much less time than usual online, texting, gaming or using social media and/or using different platforms;
  • uploading personal information—theirs or other’s;
  • appearing withdrawn, upset or outraged after using the internet or texting;
  • being secretive about who they are talking to and what they are doing online or on their mobile phone;
  • having lots of new phone numbers, texts or e-mail addresses on their mobile phone, laptop or tablet;
  • suddenly possessing unexplained money/gifts/expensive in-game purchases;
  • talking about destroying someone’s online game;
  • indicators of any offline forms of abuse/criminal activity;
  • young children talking about/enacting things they would ordinarily have no knowledge or comprehension of.

What to do - staff/volunteers

  • Do the children and young people you work with know how to ask for help, support and advice?
  • Are they aware how to report their online concerns, e.g., to the company and/or using in-site report buttons etc.?
  • Do they know the different ways they can contact ChildLine and the advice and support they offer, including the partnership they have with the Internet Watch Foundation?
  • Do children and young people know about the appropriate support, advice sites and apps available to them?
  • Who would children and young people speak to at your setting regarding their concerns?
  • Would they seek help and support? This is an important question to ask, as there are many reasons why someone would not seek help and support.

What to do - DSLs/safeguarding teams

  • Ensure all staff are trained in online safety and receive regular updates at least annually. This should include an understanding of the expectations, applicable roles and responsibilities in relation to filtering and monitoring, keep staff up to date with what children/young people are doing online, and ensure they understand expectations regarding online professional boundaries and behaviour, including communication via social media.
  • Technology is constantly evolving, as are the risks and harms associated with it, for example, the development of artificial intelligence (AI). Check the tech your setting uses (including EdTech systems) and how safe it is/safely it is being used. Consider an annual review of your organisations approach to online safety, supported by an annual risk assessment that considers and reflects the ever-changing risks children face. A free online safety self-review tool for education settings can be found via the 360 safe website.
  • Ensure your child protection policy includes online safety relevant to your setting and the devices you use, references filtering and monitoring standards appropriate to the needs of your setting and that all staff understand their roles in meeting these standards.
  • Ensure filtering and monitoring systems are actively used to safeguard students, managed well and reviewed on a regular basis.
  • Ensure online safety is an integral part of the curriculum (from early years upwards) and children and young people know how to evaluate what they see online, recognise persuasion techniques and understand what acceptable online behaviour is.
  • Ensure parents/carers have access to online safety information and understand your policy.
  • Ensure staff and parents know not to ‘spread the word’ about named ‘bad/scary/dangerous’ sites/challenges so as not to publicise them, spread panic and/or generate a false sense of security (abuse/harm can happen on ‘good’ sites).

The Online Safety Act

The Online Safety Act (2023) makes tech companies legally responsible for preventing and removing illegal content like terrorism and revenge pornography. They must also stop children seeing harmful material, such as bullying, pornography and content promoting self-harm and eating disorders.

Social media companies must provide adults and children with clear, accessible and easy-to-use ways to report problems and make complaints online if harms arise. If you think a company is failing to meet the required standards, it should be easy to raise your concerns with the platform.

If you have ongoing concerns about a platform, you can make a complaint to Ofcom. While Ofcom cannot respond to individual complaints, this information can help them to assess which companies are complying with the regulations.

The Act also:

  • makes it a crime to share an intimate image of someone without their consent;
  • criminalises sending an explicit image for the purpose of sexual gratification or to humiliate, alarm or distress the recipient.

Organisations working with children should have policies and procedures in place so key staff know what steps to take if they have concerns that a company is not complying with the regulations, and how to support a young person who has had an image shared without their consent, or who has received or sent an explicit image.

Get help

We offer online safety training for staff and students focusing on the concept of young people’s digital well-being. Contact us to arrange training or an audit of your setting's approach today.

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DSL Training Materials

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (Primary settings) – DSL Information sheet

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (Care settings) – DSL Information sheet

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (Care Settings)

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (16+ settings) – DSL Information sheet

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (16+ settings)

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (SEND settings) – DSL Information sheet

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (SEND)

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (Secondary settings) – DSL Information sheet

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (Secondary settings)

  • Online Safety DSL Training Materials

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (Primary Settings)

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (Early Years settings) – DSL Information sheet

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime scenario (Early Years)

  • Breck’s Last Game

  • Online safety and cybercrime – Quiz (Answer Sheet)

  • Online Safety and Cybercrime – Quiz

  • Handout for staff

  • Presenter notes


  • Online safety advice for early years settings

  • Money laundering-linked financial exploitation

  • Look Closer Campaign

  • Responding to online scares and challenges

  • Online safety helpline for professionals

  • Support victims of cyberflashing

  • UKSIC Online safety Audit Tool

  • Childnet – campaign toolkit

  • Teaching online safety in schools: Questions from the governing board

  • Childline – Report Remove tool

  • Online blackmail education resource for 15-18 year olds

  • Never too early to start

  • Swiggle

  • Parents – scare or prepare?

  • Think u know resource library

  • Test your internet filter

  • A guide for education settings and filtering providers

  • Filtering and monitoring webinars

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