Social media and networks in health and social care
Social media and networks in health and social care

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1.4 Working with vulnerable young people online

While it is recognised that all children and young people are vulnerable to the risks of the internet, there are, as indicated in the previous section, particular groups of children and young people who are especially vulnerable. Some research suggests that children and young people with intellectual disability, such as autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are at risk of ‘being left behind’ with regards to internet access (Agren et al., 2018). It is known that this particular group can be more at risk of the dangers associated with the internet: they might have poor insight and judgement about the dangers, have a desire to make friends and be ‘included’ and as a result of difficulties with peer-to-peer social skills they might feel more comfortable engaging with people online (Chiner et al., 2017; Buijs et al., 2017; Normand and Sallafranque-St-Louis, 2016).

The following activity explores the challenges when working with children and young people with intellectual disability, those who have experienced potentially traumatic events or frequent and significant life events, may live in foster care, with a special care order in place or in a specialist residential setting. It uses the real life experiences of a family support worker who works with children and young people from this group.

Activity 4 Discussions with a family support worker

Please note: you are advised to undertake this activity on a desktop computer as the crossword may not appear correctly on smaller screens.

Note that the audios use pseudonyms to respect the confidentiality of the people and service users associated with the organisation in which the family support worker is employed.

Listen to each audio and then complete the crossword clues for each one.

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Discussion

You will have heard the family support worker talking about a range of challenges faced by children and young people in this vulnerable group. Children and young people who have experienced trauma, have developmental or intellectual disability or who are in a residential setting for these reasons are more vulnerable to the risks of the internet than those in mainstream education. They struggle more to understand and form appropriate relationships, find face-to-face social interaction challenging and lack awareness of the risks of sharing personal information.

You will have heard about a case where a young person used a parent’s credit card to gamble online, ran up a large bill and became obsessed with the activity. You have also heard about ‘Jess’, who was groomed online by someone she believed was a woman who she thought was her friend, eventually asking her to share inappropriate sexual images and was able to find her home address. This also raised the issues of sharing personal information online and leaving on ‘location service’ functions in online social networks such as Facebook or WhatsApp.

The family support worker manages online risks for this vulnerable group by:

  • education of staff, children, young people, parents and carers

    This education should be embedded into the curriculum and wherever information technology is being used. Staff in this setting are trained three times per year to make sure they are up to date with this rapidly changing technology. Parents and carers should be educated about privacy settings, monitoring these settings and also supervision of children while they are using the internet.

  • carrying out individual or group work with those most at risk or where an incident has been reported

    The group work allows for an honest and open conversation about information on the internet, e.g. that sites showing pornography are not ‘reality’.

  • having a safeguarding policy that is regularly reviewed and updated
  • referring to credible and reliable resources on the topic of internet safety

    An example of these resources are those from Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]  (CEOPs).

  • being open and honest with the young people without the need to remove technology completely.

This encourages them to report any concerns they have, ask any questions and teach them how to use technology safely in day-to-day life, as they will have to when they are an adult.

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