Supporting Online Youth Work

Create a safer environment for your organisation’s online youth work.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CONSIDER?

  • Does your organisation have any policies that provide guidance to your staff, volunteers and young people on how to use the internet?
  • Do you know if your computers have any software installed that can reduce the risk of innappropriate content getting through?
  • Are parents aware that young people access the internet while at your youth service?
  • How can you use online youth work in a safe productive way that can compliment your offline youth work?

Please read on to find out some tips and guidance to help you answer the questions raised above and to direct you to find answers elsewhere. 

Your Policies

An Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP) is a document which addresses all rights, privileges, responsibilities and sanctions associated with the Internet, Webwise.ie.

The AUP can support your online youth work by setting out what is acceptable behaviour for using the internet by all stakeholders involved in your organisation. Here are some examples of what can be included...

  • A statement of what your organisation's position is for using the internet for youth work. This statement can be positive, supportive and designed to empower your staff/volunteers to use the internet in a constructive way with their youth work.

  • Guidance for staff/volunteers to direct them on how to use the internet in their youth work e.g. how to use social networking sites, what sort of websites are permitted or not permitted while online, how should you supervise the young people while online etc.

  • What written permission do you need to get from Parents/Carers when engaging with young people online.

  • Where can you get help if you have any concerns about anything that you come across online.

  • It can be useful to outline how does your organisation's policies support the AUP e.g. Child Protection Policy and Procedures for reporting concerns.

  • Another aspect of the AUP can focus on the consequences for breaching the policy as there can be civil, disciplinary and criminal actions taken as a result.

  • Describe how the AUP is implemented across your organisation.

A sample AUP can be found at http://www.webwise.ie/SampleAcceptableUsePolicies.shtm

Your Technology

The technology you use can help create a safe environment and reduce the risk of young people accessing inappropriate or harmful material while accessing the internet at your youth work setting. Levels of internet access and supervision may vary according to the young person’s age and experience. Up to date software can help control the content that young people view while accessing the internet via your organisation’s computers.

There is no completely secure software, such as content filter products, that will guarantee that only appropriate material will be seen. The first step to the process should be to assess what level of filtering you currently have. According to the National Centre for Technology in Education there are a number of levels of filtering to choose from depending on the needs of the organisation. For more information on the levels of filtering and for further advice go to http://www.ncte.ie/Broadband/ContentFiltering.

Occasionally mistakes may happen and inappropriate content may be accessed. It is therefore important that the following points are adhered to;

  • Children should always be supervised when using the internet via the organisation’s computers.

  • Acceptable Use Policies are in place and implemented to everyone.

  • Internet Safety Rules should be displayed.

  • Children and adults should be educated about the risks online.

  • There should also be an Incident Log to report breaches of filtering or inappropriate content being accessed. This should be followed up on by key persons to make sure that the settings are correct and reduce the risk of any further breaches.

  • Procedures need to be established to report such incidents to appropriate person/s.

Using Social Media

The use of online social media has grown in popularity across the world. Hand held devices and wifi connections have created almost unlimited access to the internet and as such digital communications. Many young people have embraced the social networking opportunities that the internet offers and the youth work sector has also engaged in many ways with this too. We have sourced some tips that can be useful to guide your organisation's interaction with social networking. 

  • Consult with your key staff, volunteers and young people to agree how you will engage with social networking websites.

  • It is advisable that you inform your staff and volunteers that they should maintain appropriate boundaries while engaging with young people on social networking websites. Consult with your personnel and agree with them how to manage this aspect of your work.

  • Setting up and implementing good methods of monitoring the use of social networking in youth work is advisable. If your youth work utilises social networking sites to engage with young people it can be useful to include this in your regular supervision and support the youth workers. 

  • If you set up an organisational profile on a social network site it is advisable that you plan how you want comments to appear. Do you allow everyone to post messages without seeing them first or do you put in place a system for monitoring them in advance of going public.

  • It is advisable that you set up a notification system within the organisation that sends alerts when certain inappropriate content is posted.

  • Agree a procedure for reporting any concerns that may arise from using the internet in your youth organisation. Promote this procedure to everyone involved in the organisation so that they know where to get help if they have a problem or concern.

  • If there is a suspicion of any illegal or criminal activity being perpetrated by the use of the internet in your organisation this should be reported to the statutory authorities without delay and managed in line with your organisation’s policies and procedures.

  • An Acceptable Usage Policy that is written and implemented in accordance with your organisation's work can provide guidance for the use of social networking sites.