6.12 Child Abuse and Information Communication Technology


This chapter outlines the potential risks to children and young people, particularly in relation to sexual exploitation and bullying, which may occur as a result of using computers and mobile phones.

For further reading, go to the Child Exploitation and On-Line Protection Centre (CEOP) which can be found at CEOP website. The CEOP is a partnership between government, law enforcement, non-governmental organisations NGO's including children's charities and industry, with the common aim of protecting children. It works to protect children, families and society from paedophiles and sex offenders - in particular those who seek to exploit children sexually online.


Child Safety Online: A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media


In December 2020, this chapter was reviewed and updated where required.

1. The Internet

As technology develops, the Internet and its range of content services can be accessed through various devices including mobile phones, text messaging and mobile camera phones as well as computers and game consoles. As a consequence the Internet has become a significant tool in the distribution of indecent/pseudo photographs and video clips of children and young people.

Internet chat rooms, discussion forums and bulletin boards are used as a means of contacting children with a view to grooming them for inappropriate or abusive relationships, which may include requests to make and transmit sexual images of themselves or to perform sexual acts live in front of a web cam.

Contacts made initially in a chat room are likely to be carried on via email, instant messaging services, mobile phone and text messaging. There is also a growing cause for concern about the exposure of children to inappropriate material via interactive communication technology e.g. adult pornography and extreme forms of obscene material.

2. Child Abuse and the Adult

There is some evidence that people found in possession of indecent photographs/pseudo photographs or films/videos of children may now or in the future be involved directly in child abuse themselves. When someone is discovered to have placed or accessed such material on the Internet, the Police should consider the potential likelihood that the individual is involved in the active abuse of children.

In particular, the individual's access to children should be established within the family, within employment contexts and in other settings such as voluntary work with children or other positions of trust.

It should be borne in mind that any indecent, obscene image involving a child has, by its very nature, involved a person, who in creating that image has been party to abusing that child.

3. Sexual Offences Act 2003 and Grooming

Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence for a person (A) aged 18 or over to meet intentionally, or to travel with the intention of meeting a child under 16 in any part of the world, if he or she has met or communicated with that child on one or more occasion, and intends to commit a "relevant offence" against that child either at the time of the meeting or on a subsequent occasion. An offence is not committed if (A) reasonably believes the child to be 16 or over.

The section is intended to cover situations where an adult (A) establishes contact with a child through for example, communications on the internet and gains the child's trust and confidence so that he can arrange to meet the child for the purpose of committing a "relevant offence" against the child.

The course of conduct prior to the meeting that triggers the offence may have an explicitly sexual content, such as (A) entering into conversations with the child about sexual acts he wants to engage him/her in when they meet, or sending images of adult pornography. However, the prior meetings or communication need not have an explicitly sexual content and could for example simply be (A) giving swimming lessons or meeting him/her incidentally through a friend.

The offence will be complete either when, following the earlier communications, (A) meets the child or travels to meet the child with the intent to commit a relevant offence against the child. The intended offence does not have to take place.

The evidence of (A's) intent to commit an offence may be drawn from the communications between (A) and the child before the meeting or may be drawn from other circumstances, for example if (A) travels to the meeting with ropes, condoms and lubricants.

Subsection (2) (a) provides that (A's) previous meetings or communications with the child can have taken place in or across any part of the world. This would cover for example (A) emailing the child from abroad, (A) and the child speaking on the telephone abroad, or (A) meeting the child abroad. The travel to the meeting itself must at least partly take place in England or Wales or Northern Ireland.

4. Indecent Images of Children and Young People

As many professionals working within different organisations have increased access to the Internet or World Wide Web, therefore the opportunity for computer misuse also grows.

All organisations within Knowsley SCP should have clear set policies and procedures in place, backed up with guidance and training, addressing the issue of employees accessing illegal child pornography. Managers should have a clear understanding of what procedure to follow should they be informed that one of their staff members is suspected of accessing such images on a works computer.

It is a criminal act under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 for any person to make and distribute indecent images of children. These are arrestable offences.

Upon the receipt of any information concerning a person or persons suspected of this kind of activity, the department head should notify Merseyside Police immediately. No downloading or distribution of any images should be completed, either internally or externally within the organisation, as this will leave the individuals responsible open to criminal investigation.

The computer should be left and not used by anyone, allowing this to be seized as evidence for forensic examination by the Police. The details of all persons having access to the computer should be made available to allow a clear evidence trail to be established.

5. Referral and Strategy Discussion

Where there is suspected or actual evidence of anyone accessing or creating indecent images of children, this must be referred to Merseyside Police and Children's Social Care.

Where there are concerns about a child being groomed, exposed to pornographic material or contacted by someone inappropriately, via the Internet or other ICT tools like a mobile phone, referrals should be made to Merseyside Police and to Children's Social Care.

Due to the nature of this type of abuse and the possibility of the destruction of evidence, the referrer should first discuss their concerns with the Police and Children's Social Care before raising the matter with the family. This will enable a joint decision to be made about informing the family and ensuring that the child's welfare is safeguarded.

All such reports should be taken seriously. Most referrals will be followed by a Children and Family Assessment and information should be shared between the Police and Children's Social Care in order to determine whether a Strategy Discussion should take place.

A Strategy Discussion and any Section 47 Enquiry and Child and Family Assessment must carefully consider:

  • Is there a child at immediate risk of Significant Harm e.g. the child in the image or a child in the household?
  • What is the impact on the child in the image/in the household in terms of risks and their needs?
  • Are there other children visiting the household? What is the impact on them?
  • Is the child about to meet with the person inappropriately contacting them?
  • Is the person accessing images or creating them in contact with children in their workplace?
  • Is the person inappropriately contacting the child in contact with children in their workplace?
  • Is the person accessing or creating images involved in voluntary work, youth work or any other activity involving positions of trust?
  • Is the person inappropriately contacting the child involved in voluntary work, youth work or any other activity involving a position of trust?
  • What is the timescale for a forensic investigation of any computer equipment?
  • If the person is to be investigated, how should their contact with children be managed in the meantime, in the workplace and/or at home?
  • Should other procedures, such as the Allegations against Staff, Carers and Volunteers be triggered?
  • Is the other parent or any other carer in the household able to protect the child? What support networks do they have?
  • What are the implications of the likely delay in the criminal investigations?
  • Intervention should be continually under review if further evidence comes to light.

6. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry

Where the enquiries have revealed that there are children in the household or in regular contact with the household about whom there are concerns of continuing risk of Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened within 15 working days of the last Strategy Discussion.

Where there are no children identified as at continuing risk of significant harm in relation to the adult, the Police will continue with investigations in order to establish the identity of the child/ren in the images if at all possible. The National Police Child Abuse and Internet Specialist Services will be informed as appropriate.

Where there are no children identified in the adult's household or immediate home environment but the adult is in contact with children in other settings such as work or other activities, the relevant procedure such as the Allegations against Staff, Carers and Volunteers should be followed.

Where the person, who is alleged to have accessed or created the indecent images or groomed another child, is a child, action under the Abuse by Children and Young People Procedure should be considered.

7. Actions to be taken where an Employee has Concerns about a Colleague

Where an employee has either information or reason to suspect that a colleague is accessing indecent images of children, the following procedures must be followed:

  1. The employee with the concerns must inform his/her own line manager the same working day;
  2. Where the concerns are about the line manager, then the employee should go straight to the next in line senior manager, or any other senior manager, within the same working day;
  3. The manager who receives the information should ensure the computer in question is appropriately secured, and that it is not used by any other employee;
  4. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) must be contacted the same day;
  5. Where an employee does not feel confident in informing any available line manager, then the agency's own whistle-blowing procedures should be used;
  6. The LADO and the manager will ensure that the Police are contacted and actions agreed the same working day;
  7. Identified senior managers will discuss and agree appropriate immediate actions regarding the employee subject to the allegations. There should be liaison with the LADO and the views of the police should be canvassed to inform the decision;
  8. The Local Authority Designated Officer will ensure the Child Protection Procedures are followed, including the Allegations against Staff, Carers and Volunteers, where appropriate.

8. Cyberbullying

"Cyber bullying is the use of Information Communications Technology (ICT), particularly mobile phones and the internet, deliberately to upset someone else" (Department of Children Schools and Families (now the Department for Education) definition).

The development of technology has been experienced by many young people as a positive, productive and creative opportunity that supports socialising and learning. Unfortunately, as mobile phone and internet use has become more common, so has the misuse of this technology to bully.

Surveys have reported the incidents of cyberbullying of children to have increased between 11 and 34%. Although figures vary, the research indicates that cyberbullying is a feature of many children's lives. Raising awareness and tackling bullying must therefore be a priority on the agenda for safeguarding children.

Cyber bullying is a form of bullying but some features are different from other forms of bullying.

  • Cyber bullying can happen at any time invading young people's privacy 24/7;
  • The audience for bullying can be large and the spread of information is hard to control;
  • People who cyber bully may try to remain anonymous which increases the distress level for the target. This anonymity also makes it easier for bystanders to join in without necessarily understanding how their behaviour is affecting the target;
  • Cyber bullying because of its nature can act as evidence.

The Law

Education Law makes it clear that bullying is unacceptable and that it is the duty of the school community to protect its members. The Education and Inspection Act 2006 gives Head Teachers the power 'to such an extent as is reasonable' to regulate the behaviour of pupils when they are off site which can allow incidents of cyberbullying to be dealt with by the school.

Bullying is not a specific criminal offence but laws of harassment and threatening behaviour may apply. The Malicious Communication Acts may also apply. Police should be contacted for further advice in this area.

Tackling Cyberbullying

The best approach is prevention, which relies initially on identifying someone to coordinate a response. Areas which need to be covered include raising awareness; updating policies and practice; making reporting cyberbullying easier; promoting the positive use of technology and regularly reviewing the impact of these preventative activities.

Responding to incidents when they occur involves supporting the person being bullied, investigating the incident, working with the person doing the bullying and imposing sanctions. It is also important to consider when there is a child protection issue and when the police should be involved.

Service providers can be contacted. Mobile phone companies have nuisance call centres and procedures to deal with such instances. Calls can also be barred or numbers changed. Social networking sites and chat rooms also have procedures in place.

Education of children and young people and their parent/carers on key safety advice is crucial. There are a variety of good resources that can help. The Department for Education guidance is comprehensive and can be used by schools and can be adapted by other settings.

Resource List for Cyberbullying and E-safety

Department for Education

THINK U KNOW is an online resource promoting safe use of the internet. It provides help and advice to parents, resources to use with young people and information and training for teachers and other adults working with young people. This site links to The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was established in 1996 by the UK internet industry to provide the UK internet 'Hotline' for the public and IT professionals to report potentially illegal online content within our remit and to be the 'notice and take-down' body for this content

Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) is made up of police forces from around the world and offers advice, information and support to adults and children to protect themselves against abuse including information on how to report inappropriate or illegal activity with or towards a child online.

Safer Children in a Digital World. The report of the Byron Review;

Childnet International is an international, non-profit making organisation working to "help make the Internet a great and safe place for children" Child net provide advice both for parents/carers and children and young people and runs a number of different projects on staying safe on the internet and cyber bullying which can be accessed via the website;

Links to digizen - Teacher's resources + film 'Let's Fight it Together'

Know IT ALL for Primary Schools

Know IT ALL for Teachers (secondary)

Know It All For Parents is an Award-winning CDROM produced by parents aimed at parents and carers to help them understand the internet and help keep their children safer online. All the content is free to view at Childnet International. Jenny's Story. A DVD for secondary school pupils that outlines one real experience of the consequences of chatting online £20.70 (includes p&p); available from Childnet International

Securus is a Company supplying software to protect pupils from cyberbullying in schools

Parentline Plus has been re-launched as Family Lives. It is a national parenting organisation. The Parentline helpline is available on 0808 800 2222 for free, confidential, 24 hour help line on any matter relating to parenting including bullying.

Appendix 1: ACPO Guidance: Young People Who Post Self-Taken Indecent Images

Click here to view Appendix 1: ACPO Guidance: Young People Who Post Self-Taken Indecent Images