Cleveland Polices Economic, Cyber Crime and Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT) Detective Inspector was in attendance at the meeting to provide information to the panel on this topic. The Detective Inspector advised that Cleveland Police had a specialist team to tackle online indecent images and the team included 12 Detectives and 2 Sergeants. The work of the team was predominately focused on tackling Child Sexual Exploitation and targeting online perpetrators. The team had over 150 investigations open at present against people who had downloaded indecent images of children or groomed a child online.
The Detective Inspector advised that a lot of children were unaware of the risks they were taking in sharing indecent images of themselves. The Police had seen a significant increase in the number of selfie or self-generated images of children stored on computers by perpetrators. Images from snapchat and other similar applications were the most common. The Detective Inspector acknowledged that todays children lived in a digital world and their concept of being friends online was entirely different to being friends in real life. The Local Childrens Safeguarding Board (LCSB) regularly discussed this issue at length and there was a need for a common approach to the education of all children on this matter.
The Detective Inspector expressed the view that regular sessions delivered by CEOP Ambassador trained staff to young people on the dangers of these risk taking behaviours would make a real difference. PCSOs were currently receiving CEOP Ambassador training and it was envisaged that each school would be allocated a PCSO. Reference was made to the approach taken by various schools in respect of this issue and it was advised that some were very proactive. Regular newsletters were sent out and current trends highlighted. It was confirmed that if an investigation was conducted, which involved an adult possessing or making indecent images of a child there would be a prosecution. Cleveland Police had prosecuted 90 people in the last 12 months for possessing indecent images of children and another 85 were on bail awaiting prosecution. The sharing of indecent images of children online was a huge industry.
In terms of highlighting these dangers to parents it was suggested that the Police and Council in partnership with schools could collectively run a publicity campaign on this issue. The benefit of using social media to proactively push the message out to a specific target audience was also discussed, as well as the potential for highlighting this issue via Cleveland Connects and the Love Middlesbrough magazine. The Detective Inspector expressed the view that further consideration should be given to undertaking such a campaign. The point was made that parents often held the view that this wouldnt happen to us, this wouldnt happen to my child but unfortunately the reality was different.
Parents had the same responsibility to look after their child in the digital world as they did in the real world. Members expressed the view that there should be more national media campaigns on the importance of protecting children online. A regional campaign would also be beneficial.
Reference was made to the facility to track your childs location, as well as filtering the picture messages they can send and receive via their mobile phone. The Detective Inspector confirmed that there were hundreds of secretive applications for parents to use and these were very much a tool in the box. Many children were highly knowledgeable with regard to mobile technology but awareness amongst parents could be improved. Another method for protecting children involved signing a contract with the child to work out the rules on how the device was to be used and what could / could not be accessed when they received it.
In terms of feedback from the interviews with schools reference was made to information provided by Middlesbrough College on the very few incidents it had recorded. The Detective Inspector advised that for young people aged 16-18 in a lot of cases unless it posed a major problem the issue was very much hidden. The point was also made that the only people who reported this issue were parents upon finding the evidence on their childs phone. It was never self-reported by a child, as understandably children were reluctant to admit they had shared an indecent picture online or had been talking to a man in his 20s/30s. The view was expressed that general awareness raising of these issues should be undertaken by Cleveland Police with the aim of reaching out to parents and adopting a preventative approach.
The panel was 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 have done so, the Police could record that they chose not to take further action as it was not in the public interest.
In response to the use of Outcome 21 the Detective Inspector advised that it had been used 6 times by Cleveland Police in 2016/2017. If an incident image was reported it had to be recorded and outcome 21 was used in cases where indecent images had been produced and shared by children. Members expressed the view that it would be useful to have the Detective Inspector attend Community Council meetings to provide advice on this subject. The Detective Inspector advised that he had a hard hitting presentation on indecent images and what effects it had on children. The presentation had been given to approximately 7/8 schools in Middlesbrough, as well as Social Workers and Doctors.
The Chair thanked the Detective for his contribution and the panel discussed its conclusions and recommendations. Based on the evidence, given throughout the investigation, the scrutiny panel put forward the following recommendations:-
a) That the support of the Regional Ofsted Leads for Safeguarding and Education were enlisted to ensure that the best practice findings outlined in the report were taken on board and promoted amongst all schools in Middlesbrough as follows:-
That all schools in Middlesbrough employed CEOP ambassador trained staff to routinely deliver digital safeguarding presentations to children.
That schools produced a bespoke version of the Sexting in schools and colleges: responding to incidents and safeguarding young people (August 2016) document based on the best practice example provided by a Middlesbrough Primary School.
That children and young people be provided with a 3 point plan of what to do if this happens to me.
That teachers, parents, carers and professionals working with children and young people were provided with a quick and easy reference method on how to respond to any incidents.
That due attention was given to the Local Childrens Safeguarding Boards quarterly newsletter.
That schools listened to children and young people regularly to ensure they were aware of the most up to date information in respect of sexting taking place in the school / wider community.
That the Digital Leaders Program was promoted in all schools across the town.
That the use of drama be used (as with Chelseas Choice) to deliver information to parents directly by children and young people in Middlesbrough.
b) That in readiness for the introduction of new statutory Relationship and Sex Education in September 2019 schools, sixth forms and colleges were proactively encouraged to take advantage of the resources available and sign up to the Councils Respect Yourself and Why Risk it Programme.
c) That all schools in Middlesbrough were actively encouraged to sign up to receive a regular digital parenting magazine and attend the Safeguarding Network Forum.
d) That an alert system was set up to immediately inform safeguarding staff of trends / apps / online crazes that could pose a danger to young people, which staff needed to be made aware of (similar to the way in which alerts were sent out to professionals working in drug and alcohol services to alert them of specific dangers).
e) That a publicity campaign to raise awareness for parents, carers, teachers and other professionals working with young people on how to set safety and privacy controls on the most popular social network sites, apps and live streaming services was undertaken to further protect children and young people in Middlesbrough.
I. Many staff employed by the Council had children and grandchildren aged between 4 - 18 years old and getting the message out to staff around protecting their childs digital footprint, understanding the latest apps, learning how to use parental controls was as important as teaching young people about the dangers involved in new risk taking behaviours.
II. That the CEOP and the thinkyouknow website was regularly promoted via the Love Middlesbrough magazine and the Councils digital media platforms.
f) That a bi-annual event be hosted on Digital Safeguarding/Digital Resilience in an effort to increase awareness, share best practice and provide an opportunity for statutory agencies in Middlesbrough to share knowledge and experience in addressing these challenges.
g) That training on Digital Safeguarding was included in the Local Childrens Safeguarding Boards (LCSB) and School Governors annual training programme in an effort to further strengthen knowledge and awareness.
h) That all schools in Middlesbrough were fully supported to ensure that they had links from their main school websites to CEOP, the NSPCC and a digital parenting magazine to enable parents to access trusted advice directly from their childs school website.
i) That a public safety campaign by Middlesbrough Council and Cleveland Police similar to that used by Leicestershire / West Yorkshire Police to warn young people, both girls and boys, about the dangers of speaking to people they didnt know online be developed and rolled out. The possibility of undertaking this work in partnership with the NSPCC, O2, Vodafone or BT could be explored particularly in respect of working with parents to help them understand and protect their children from online abuse.
a. That innovative ways in which to reach parents through the public safety campaign as a targeted demographic be explored - including the use of social media and the purchasing of reach on Facebook.
b. That the idea of children signing a contract with their parents / carers when receiving / upgrading their mobile phone to work out the rules on how the device was to be used and what could / could not be accessed be promoted.
j) That Cleveland Polices Economic and Cyber Crime units presentation on indecent imagery and the impact it had on children be provided to all elected Members.
k) That the panel received an update on Digital Safeguarding - Sexting in 6 months time.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That the panels final report on the topic of Digital Safeguarding be referred to the Overview and Scrutiny Board for consideration.
2. That the information provided by Cleveland Police at todays meeting be incorporated in the panels final report.