Internet, Photographs and Mobile Phones


  1. Introduction
  2. Web Enabled, Internet Technology/ Social Networking
  3. Photographs
  4. Mobile Phones, Social Networking Sites and Apps

1. Introduction

Different ways of communicating with friends are important to a child/young people and are now a way of life from an early age. When a child is placed with you, find out their background and whether the internet, photographs and mobile phones contributed towards any abuse or makes them particularly vulnerable to abuse or bullying so that you can plan their use safely for all children but particularly those where it has been an issue. You should ask the child’s social worker for advice and information.

Your knowledge of different media will vary but it is important that foster carers develop their understanding of different electronic devices, the internet and social media, and that you learn how to safeguard children when using the internet and mobile devices. Foster carers should also be aware of and alert to the signs of grooming behaviour. Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation.

The internet is an important tool for everyday living but it may pose a risk to some young people who may be vulnerable to bullying or exploitation. If you are concerned that a child/young person is being bullied over the internet or phone, you should talk to them about it, record what is happening in the daily record and speak to your supervising social worker and the child’s social worker as soon as possible.

2. Web Enabled, Internet Technology/ Social Networking

The best way to keep children safe on the internet is to discuss the positive as well as the risky aspects of the web and to ensure children and young people are well informed and know how to keep themselves safe but to have all the benefits of the internet. Children should not be permitted to use sites that are also used by adults unless risk assessment has been carried out, in consultation with the social worker. These arrangements must be outlined in the child's Placement Plan and must be reviewed regularly.

Depending on the child or young persons age, you should try and take part in a child’s web browsing particularly for a new child in placement; school homework is an ideal opportunity for this. Some useful guidelines are;

  • Time limits on computers should be agreed with the child/young person;
  • Appropriate internet security should be used on the computers to avoid access to inappropriate material;
  • You should set clear ground rules on the use of the internet;
  • Computers should be in areas of the house where adults can see what is being looked at rather than in a bedroom, depending on the young persons age;
  • If a young person has a laptop then decide with them where and when they can use it if they are accessing the internet;
  • It is a good idea to show an interest in the internet and encourage young people to be open about any concerns or problems;
  • Talk and listen to young people to ensure that they fully understand the risk of meeting with someone they "meet" on the internet, as these are sometimes adults who pretend to be young people and who pose a risk to children and young people;
  • Encourage the child to tell you about messages that are rude, threatening, or makes them feel uncomfortable. If the child receives a message or sees something on-line that you are concerned about keep a copy and make a note in the daily record;
  • Remember that people online may not be who they say they are.

Teaching the child to be cautious is important and can help when they start to use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. When they do you should talk with the young people to avoid posting details about the child's profile and postings which contain nothing that might expose their identity or whereabouts. If the foster child makes your child or grandchildren friends on facebook there is a risk of the foster child's contacts becoming your child's contacts, which may pose some risk to your own children. It would be a good idea to go through the site's terms and conditions, explaining them to the child - it's important you both understand them.

You should try to equip all children and young people with the skills to decide who to trust, even when they have not met the person face-to-face and talk to the child/young person about what makes a real friend.

Again, you should be aware of and alert to indicators of grooming behaviour and possible sexual exploitation.

Social networking sites are websites where you can create a profile all about yourself and contact other people. You can also upload photos, music and videos to share with other people, and on some sites, chat to other people on forums. Popular social networking websites include Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter but there are others.

Social networking sites are often used by perpetrators as an easy way to access children and young people for sexual abuse. The Serious Crime Act (2015) introduced an offence of sexual communication with a child. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under16 years of age. The Act also amended the Sex Offences Act 2003, it is an offence for an adult to arrange to meet with someone under 16 having communicated with them on just one occasion (previously it was on at least two occasions).

Radical and extremist groups may use social networking to attract children and young people into narrow ideologies that are intolerant of diversity: this is similar to the grooming process and exploits the same vulnerabilities. The groups concerned include those linked to extreme Islamist, or Far Right/Neo Nazi ideologies, extremist Animal Rights groups and others who justify political, religious, sexist or racist violence.

Children may be drawn to adopt a radical ideology through a failure to appreciate the bias in extremist material; in addition by repeated viewing of extreme content they may come to view it as normal.

‘Internet Abuse’ relates to four main areas of abuse to children:

  • Abusive images of children (although these are not confined to the Internet);
  • A child or young person being groomed for the purpose of Sexual Abuse;
  • Exposure to pornographic or other offensive material via the Internet; and
  • The use of the internet, and in particular social media, to engage children in extremist ideologies.

3. Photographs

If it is OK to take pictures or videos always ask the child’s permission first and make sure they are clear on who will see them and why.

You should try and take photographs regularly of the child/young person to help record their life; it may also help when putting together their Life Story book. See Keeping Memories.

You should be clear on who can give consent for the child to have their picture taken or be filmed for school etc. However unless there are particular known risks, foster children should have the same opportunities to have their photograph taken as all children have. However, foster carers cannot agree on their own to children's photographs in newspapers.

4. Mobile Phones, Social Networking Sites and Apps

‘Smart’ mobile phones and some apps offer text messaging, taking pictures, sending and receiving them, sending and receiving video clips and sound tracks, as well as access to the internet which means a child can download pictures and videos. Young people do not always understand that private photographs they post on websites or send to friends are not private and could be used or abused by anyone.

With a camera phone a child/young person can also send pictures of themselves, friends and where they live, which can have security implications for some Looked After Children.

It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others and an agreement reached between the young person, social worker and foster carer about how safely to do this.

Mobile phone network providers operate a barring and filtering mechanism to prevent those under 18 years accessing 18 rated content. The service can be provided for both contract and pay as you go phones. You are advised to explore this with the network provider that a child/young person uses or see what other services they offer.