Online Safety and Cybercrime

The internet provides both opportunities and threats to children and young people. Threats include bullying, grooming, exposure to pornographic and extremist materials, radicalisation and sexual/criminal exploitation.

Online course available

Want to know more about the ways in which children can be harmed online, how we might identify that this harm is taking place and how to respond?  In conjunction with the Marie Collins Foundation we have e-learning available for just £2.99+VAT per user.  Click here for more information.

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Online safety is as an umbrella term for promoting the safeguarding of children and young people when using any device over the internet. We know that the online world can add great value to the lives of children and young people, personally and/or educationally.  This is also an evolving area, and with developments in virtual reality, 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 is more to technology that 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, and this is where all settings working with children and young people, regardless of age, can take a lead.

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

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What is online harm? 

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

  • being exposed to illegal, inappropriate or harmful content, e.g., pornography, fake news, racism, misogyny, self-harm, suicide, anti-Semitism, radicalisation and extremism (Even pre-school children may come across such content – especially on devices with voice-activated search enabled.); 
  • being subjected to harmful online contact with other users, e.g., peer pressure, adults posing as children or young adults with the intention to groom or exploit them for sexual, criminal, financial or other purposes;  
  • personal online conduct that increases the likelihood of/causes harm, e.g., making, sending and receiving consensual and non-consensual sharing of nudes and semi-nudes and/or pornography, sharing other explicit images, online bullying, allowing apps/websites to access location, younger children sending (including inappropriate/indecent) images/information to a device’s contact list (e.g., their parent’s);  
  • commerce-based risks (both as victims and perpetrators), e.g., online gambling, inappropriate advertising, phishing and/or financial scams.  

Online abuse is any abuse that is facilitated by 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 uploaded online. 

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, mobile phones and tablets are as well. Many of these allow the children who use them access to chat rooms, pornography and other sites where they may be at risk. In this digital age, online safety is a concern for all who work with, or are parents/carers of, children and young people.

The internet is a wonderful resource for learning, but children/young people need to be aware of the inherent risks in online activity. 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.

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Sometimes when thinking about online safety, we focus on the risks/harms such as bullying, sharing nude/semi-nude images, child exploitation, cybercrime and radicalisation, etc. However, we also know that the online world has the ability to compromise the well-being of an individual in terms of sleep, self-esteem, confidence, peer pressure and the fear of missing out.

What is the culture around online life that you are picking up within your setting? Are children/young people feeling 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, think….) 

For children and young people, online life is an integral part of their daily life. Ofcom reports that: 

  • Nearly all 5–15-year-olds went online in 2020 with 61% owning their own tablet, and 55% their own smartphone. 
  • 82% of 3–4-year-olds went online in 2020 with 48% owning their own tablet, and 4% their own smartphone.  

Areas of risk from the offline world, such as gambling, are now easily accessible online and young people can find themselves getting into difficulty. Opening conversations around children and young people’s lived experience in their families, education settings and communities can create opportunities to help.  

Types of risks/harm

  • Grooming: through social media and/or gaming etc., in order to exploit children/young people, be that for radicalisation, sexual abuse, criminal activity.
  • Cyberbullying: can occur through any ICT, especially mobile phones.
  • Consensual/non-consensual sharing of nude/semi-nude images: these can be self-generated or otherwise.
  • Sexual abuse: including non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.
  • Financial: such as online gambling, in-game spending (including use of cryptocurrency), scams, e.g., being persuaded or tricked into being a  ‘money mule’/’squaring’ (moving someone else’s money through your bank account for a commission).
  • Exposure to inappropriate materials: e.g., pro-suicide/anorexia/self-harm sites, various forms of hatred, violent, frightening or pornographic pictures and videos.
  • Obsessive use of the internet and ICT: for example, addiction to video games, social media self -image and number of likes.
  • Other inappropriate or illegal behaviour: for example, exposure to/creation of hate mail, or offensive images, game hacking, device crashing, stalking, harassment, videoing/livestreaming assaults.
  • Copyright infringement: for example, the illegal sharing of music, pictures, videos or documents.

Spotting the signs

It is 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;
  • signs and 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

  • 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 CEO 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 appropriate support, advice sites and apps available to them?
    • Who would they speak to at your setting?
    • 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.
  • Does your Child Protection Policy reference filtering and monitoring standards appropriate to the needs of your setting? Do all staff understand their roles in meeting these standards?
  • Have you assigned roles to manage filtering and monitoring systems (which include assigning a governor and a member of the senior leadership team to be responsible for ensuring these standards are met)?
  • Does your governance body understand and review your filtering and monitoring systems and speak to the relevant staff when they have concerns?
  • Is online safety an integral and full part of the curriculum (from early years upwards)? Are your filtering and monitoring systems reviewed at least annually?
  • Do children and young people know how to evaluate what they see online, recognise persuasion techniques and understand what acceptable online behaviour is?
  • How do you promote well-being within your setting? How could people see the qualities of self-compassion, self-care and self-reflection through children/young people’s online presence?
  • Are you working to engage with parents?
    • Does your setting actively send out material to parents?
    • Is your website up to date? Do you know the resources available for your website?
    • Is your online safety policy up to date, relevant to your setting and the devices you use, and accessible to parents?
  • Are staff members at the setting up to date with what children/young people are doing online? Do staff members receive regular information/training? Training and induction should include an understanding of the expectations, applicable roles and responsibilities for all staff, governors, trustees and proprietors in relation to filtering and monitoring. 
  • Where applicable, do early years practitioners understand how to discuss online safety in an age-appropriate way with pre-school children and their parents? Does it form part of your Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum?
  • Does your setting have effective safeguarding, online safety and staff conduct policies and procedures in place, and is everybody following them? (They should cover safe and appropriate use of personal devices, wearable technology, mobile phones and cameras, along with acceptable and appropriate use of technology within the setting. They should also set out the expectations regarding professional boundaries and behaviour of staff, including communication via social media)
  • Does your DSL understand your setting’s filtering and monitoring systems and actively use and evaluate them to safeguard pupils/students? Do they know how to escalate concerns when identified?
  • Has your setting considered adopting the cyber security standards for schools and colleges?
  • Do staff and parents know not to ‘spread the word’ about named ‘bad/scary/dangerous’ sites/challenges etc? Education settings often receive warnings about ‘bad’ apps, sites or games or new dangerous challenges online. Naming these to staff, parents, and/or children runs the risk of generating a false sense of security (abuse/harm can happen on ‘good’ sites), publicising the site to children who do not yet know about it, and spreading panic.

Report Remove

Childline has established Report Remove, a service that allows children and young people under 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves that might have been shared online and get it removed. The webpage includes links to services and information offering emotional and safeguarding support.

Get some 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 school’s approach today.


  • Filtering and monitoring webinars

    The Safer Internet Centre had created webinars along with supporting information, guidance, services and tools to support settings to meet the filtering and monitoring standards.

  • A guide for education settings and filtering providers

    Additional guidance on filtering and monitoring has been provided by the UK Safer Internet Centre

  • Test your internet filter

    SWGfL has created a tool to check whether a school or college’s filtering provider is signed up to relevant lists (CSA content, Sexual Content, Terrorist content, Your Internet Connection Blocks Child Abuse & Terrorist Content).

  • Think u know resource library

    A searchable Resource Library with Thinkuknow resources by category and age range. Each resource has a detailed description covering key aims and suggestions for delivery to children and young people.

  • Parents – scare or prepare?

    London Grid for Learning respond to the question, “Should we pass on warnings to parents about specific (named) apps, sites and games, or give them lists of ones to stop children using at all costs?”, advising that their answer is usually “no”.

  • Answers to questions parents commonly ask

    Childnet, via the UK Safer Internet Centre, give advice for parents and carers, answering some of the questions parents most frequently ask about online safety.

  • Online safety films to watch with your child

    The UK Safer Internet Centre has published some recommendations online safety films which may be useful for parents and carers to watch with their children, to engage them in various aspects of online safety education, including award-winning films from the Childnet film competition, BBC Own It and The Adventures of Kara, Winston and the SMART Crew!

  • Gaming the system

    “Gaming the system” shows how children enjoy playing online and how gaming can help them to build strategic, teamwork and creative skills. Children say online gaming extends normal play into the digital landscape and provides a chance to make new friends. However, it also reveals the drawbacks, in particular highlighting how many children are spending money on ‘in-game’ purchases because they feel they have to in order to keep up with friends or to advance in the game.

  • Swiggle

    Developed by the South West Grid for Learning, Swiggle is a child friendly search engine that allows for safer searching whilst allowing children to build effective online skills.  Powered by Google SafeSearch technology, the search engine allows children and young people to respond to and report inappropriate online content that they do find promoting self-regulation whilst keeping them safe.

  • Lucy Faithfull Foundation: ‘Parents Protect’ resources

    Information and advice for parents, carers and others who want to do all they can to protect children from sexual harm.

  • What parents need to know about online grooming

    This guide from National Online Safety focuses on one platform of many which we believe trusted adults should be aware of.

  • Never too early to start

    The UK Safer Internet Centre has published resources for nursery and primary school staff to use with 3–7 yearolds.

  • Online blackmail education resource for 15-18 year olds

    Developed by Thinkuknow, Online blackmail is a new education resource which aims to help young people identify key characteristics of how blackmail manifests online, understand the impact it can have, and how they access help if they experience it.

  • Tips, advice, guides and resources to help keep your child safe online

    The UK Safer Internet Centre has published resources to support parents and carers to help their children to use the internet-connected devices safely, responsibly and positively.

  • Online safety advice for early years settings

    A short commentary on how online safety is applicable to early years settings and the areas to consider.

  • Living our lives online – top trends from Ofcom’s latest research (2022)

    This research into how adults and children in the UK use and understand media provides a range of findings that offer an insight into how people in the UK access and experience information from different online media sources. One major finding is that one in three internet users fail to spot misinformation they come across online, while one in twenty believe everything they see online.

  • Childnet – campaign toolkit

    These resources and guidance from Childnet can help education professionals raise awareness about online sexual harassment.

  • Support victims of cyberflashing

    The UK Safer Internet Centre and Childnet have put together some new resources to help parents, carers and educators support victims of cyberflashing and provide preventative advice.

  • Childline – Report Remove tool

    Childline’s Report Remove tool works with the Internet Watch Foundation to try to remove nudes or semi-nudes of children and young people from the internet. You can also listen to this podcast to learn more about why a tool like Report Remove is needed, how the tool works, and how you can signpost young people to the tool as part of your response to incidents of sharing nudes.

  • Pornography and young people

    This podcast from the SWGfL discusses the difficulties faced by educators when addressing the topic of pornography with young people. The podcast also provides advice about how to deliver the subject in an appropriate and safe environment.

  • Online safety helpline for professionals

    The Professionals Online Safety Helpline is operated by the SWGfL as part of the UK Safer Internet Centre. It offers free and independent advice to help anyone working with children and young people deal with any concerns they may have regarding online safety.

  • Responding to online scares and challenges

    Watch this video from the Professionals Online Safety Helpline to learn more about how to respond better to online scares and challenges.

  • Life online for vulnerable young people

    This report, created in partnership with Youthworks and the University of Kingston, provides insight into 6,500+ UK children with some form of vulnerability, and how the online world has become their lifeline. The report encourages parents and professionals to think differently about online safety advice for teens. It also explores the risks and how some are to up to seven times more likely to meet dangers over the internet than their non-vulnerable peers.

  • A safe space for young people worried about sexual behaviour

    If you know a young person who is worried about harmful sexual behaviour, signpost them to this web page from Shore. Part of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, Shore provides anonymous advice and support when young people are worried about their (or someone else’s) sexual thoughts, feelings or actions and to help them learn more about living safely both online and offline.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings
  • Reference documents for additional information
  • Handout for staff summarising online safety
  • Quiz to test staff understanding
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