The Head of Quality Standards and Initial Response submitted a report that provided brief details of the prevalence of Sexting / 'Youth Produced Sexual Imagery' in Middlesbrough, as well as introduced the latest guidance document for schools: 'Sexing in schools and colleges: responding to incidents and safeguarding young people (August 2016)'. The Councils Risk and Reduction Manager and SRE Coordinator were in attendance at the meeting and presented the report.
The Risk and Reduction Manager advised that advances in technology brought many improvements to the lives of old and young people alike. However, there were many disadvantages and many dangers introduced through the use of technology against which, children and young people needed to be protected. Such dangers included: sexting, online grooming of children and young people for Sexual Exploitation (CSE), or radicalisation, and cyber bullying. There issues were taking place in all towns and cities and were often linked.
Since the last panel meeting on this topic new guidance had been published by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS). It was highlighted that although this guidance was non statutory, the need for a policy in relation to sexting in schools was specifically mentioned within the statutory guidance 'Keeping Children Safe in Education' (Sept 2016), and the new non-statutory guidance was referenced.
It was explained to the panel that in 2013 and 2014, schools were experiencing a significant rise in incidents of 'Sexting', at a time when there was no guidance. In a sample of over 600 year 9 pupils (13/14), in Middlesbrough Secondary Schools and Academies, 22 per cent of girls and 14.4 per cent of boys had reported that they had previously sent a 'rude' image of themselves, via technology. It was believed this proportion would be higher in older age groups.
It was of concern that a number of cases discussed at the Middlesbroughs VEMT Practitioner Group (VPG), had shown that young people as young as 12, were making themselves Vulnerable to Sexual Exploitation, going Missing and/or were at risk of being Trafficked for sex (VEMT). The sharing of images on Instagram was a further issue of concern. Reference was made to a perpetrator of child sexual exploitation befriending young girls in the town and then accessing the details of other young people through becoming their 'friend' on Facebook. An 8 year old child had also been asked for personal details when playing on his Xbox and online gaming was another avenue through which perpetrators could target their victims.
The panel was advised that in terms of definition whilst professionals referred to the issue using the term 'sexting', there was no clear definition of 'sexting'. The guidance highlighted that whilst many professionals considered sexting to be 'sending or posting sexually suggestive images, including nude or semi-nude photographs, via mobiles or over the Internet', young people were more likely to interpret sexting as 'writing and sharing explicit messages with people they know'. Similarly many parents thought of sexting as flirty or sexual text messages rather than images. It was emphasised that the 2016 guidance document only covered the sharing of 'youth produced sexual imagery', and used this phrase instead of sexting.
In terms of the law and enforcement it was explained that it was an offence to possess, distribute, show and / or make indecent images of children (under the age of 18). This included imagery of yourself if you were under 18. In many cases this introduced a balancing act as to when to prosecute (criminalise) young people aged under 18 years, and when not to prosecute. The non-statutory guidance document provided advice on categorising youth produced imagery and differentiated between experimental and aggravated cases.
Members were informed that since January 2016 the Police had been able to reduce the criminalisation of young people by dealing with the offences surrounding self-generated imagery under 'Outcome 21'. The introduction of this measure meant that even though a young person had broken the law and the Police could provide evidence that they had done so, the Police could record that they chose not to take further action as it was not in the public interest.
The panel was informed that there had been cases in Middlesbrough where young people had been criminalised for having made, distributed or possessed youth produced sexual imagery. In addition, although the use of outcome 21 did not criminalise young people, it had been confirmed that it was not possible to categorically state that an incident of youth produced sexual imagery recorded on police systems under Outcome 21 would never be disclosed on a DBS certificate. The offence had the potential to have a serious impact on the future job prospects of young people and they needed to be protected from this risk.
Middlesbrough Safeguarding Childrens Board (MSCB) had sent out guidance to all Schools on this issue. However, from the Councils perspective it was not known what 'Sex and Relationship' education was being provided in schools / academies or what schools were doing to educate parents. The point was made that if schools were serious about protecting children and teaching children how to protect themselves whilst using technology, it was essential that all young people received both good quality, age appropriate 'Sex and Relationship Education (SRE)' and good quality, up to date internet safety advice. The Young Peoples Risk Reduction Manager expressed the view that age appropriate education should take place across years 1 to 13 and ideally this would be a co-ordinated approach across all schools in Middlesbrough under one umbrella name (e.g. for statutory school age: 'Respect Yourself' or for older young people: 'Why Risk It'.)
Unfortunately despite various campaigns at a national level the provision of Sex and Relationship Education in the UK remained non-statutory. Faith schools and academies were not required to access co-ordinated Sex and Relationship Education programmes provided by the local authority. As more schools became academies the Physical Social Health Education (PSHE) provided to students would be provided by their co-ordinating bodies. The panel queried the number of schools in Middlesbrough which are now academies and it was advised that approximately 1/3 have academy status, with 2/3 still maintained. It was emphasised that educating children and young people to keep themselves safe from sexting was the best form of prevention.
In addition the panel was informed that in an effort to keep members fully aware of the risks posed to young people by new and emerging technologies training for Members could be provided by the Councils qualified CEOP ambassadors. It was explained that the Council was able to offer two different training courses. The first of which consisted of a 1.5 hour brief overview of the risks associated with using information technology in the 21st century, including an update on new technologies and popular applications used by young people. The second was an accredited course from the National Crime Agency, which provided a greater understanding of the issues and allowed those training to access otherwise locked resources and lesson plans from the Think You Know Website and use them with young people.
In response to a query it was confirmed that training was provided to primary schools, with certain elements of the e-safety resources written to deliver to Year 6 pupils. In respect of the education of parents the view was expressed that all schools should have a policy to deal with sexting. It was also stated that there needs to be a systematic approach to educating young people from Year 1 through to Year 13. The 'Respect Yourself' programme was in the process of being developed and the Why Risk It campaign had been designed specifically with Middlesbrough College in mind. The Why Risk It course was mandatory for all students attending the college and the view was expressed that this should also be the case at all sixth forms in the town.
Reference was made to the involvement of Barnardos and it was explained that Barnardos is commissioned to undertake all the return interviews for children who go missing in Middlesbrough and is actively involved in VEMT. Although no longer commissioned by the Council LINKS in Hemlington also undertook work in schools and provided advice.
The Chair thanked the officers for the information provided.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That the opportunity for Members to undertake the 1.5 hour brief overview outlining the main risks with using information technology in the 21st century, including an update on new technologies and popular applications used by young people be accepted and arranged.
2. That the Chair of Middlesbroughs Safeguarding E-Safety Group be invited to attend the next meeting of the panel.
3. That the panels agreed work programme for 2016/17 be sent to the new, recently appointed Members of the panel.