While we come together as a nation to battle the pandemic that is COVID-19, as youth workers we are having to find alternative ways to engage with young people during lockdown and social isolation.
We have observed a lot of youth work delivery being transferred onto online platforms, leading to youth workers having to consider many things including the most important factor of how to safeguard young people and ourselves.
Here are some key things to consider as we continue to adjust to this new dynamic and learn together.
Policies and Procedures
The policies we have in place still apply and an organisation’s ‘Safeguarding Policy’ should be the leading document in safely engaging with young people online and the responsibilities and procedures should still be followed when a safeguarding incident occurs.
Other policies organisations may have in place which can inform our online practice is a ‘Social Media Policy’ which can be adapted to include other online interactions which may have not before been considered including video calling. Lone working policies will also be appropriate to refer to and it is also a good idea to risk assess all online engagement with young people. Identifying risks means we can think these through and put in place necessary precautions to reduce or remove them. If your organisation is a member with us templates of all these policies can be found under resources in the members area.
Overall it is important for us to remember what we already know, and recognise that we are simply shifting our engagement to a new a platform that, yes, presents different risks, but that our knowledge of good practise has put us in a great position to be able to think these through, overcome them and effectively safeguard young people. Compare situations to a face to face setting, thinking about what would be done to safeguard a young person and how that translates in an online capacity.
For updated information on safeguarding young people, especially during this time, you can always refer to the OSCB website. Today they have issued a briefing with updates from County Council, Health and the Police.
This is one of the main ways groups are engaging with young people. When running a session over Zoom, Skype or another platform no matter the size of the group have another member of staff on the call. It is always good to have another pair of eyes as things can go unnoticed if only one person is responsible for facilitating the call and catering for the wellbeing of all the members of the group.
Another factor to remember is to check privacy settings and have a play with the platform you will be using before running your session as the features available to you can be useful in regards to running your meetings safely. It is possible for the person facilitating the meeting to turn off the private messaging feature on the call so that only messages can be sent to the whole group as well as being able to approve and accept individuals into the chat as well as decline them if you do not recognise their user name.
1-1 Video calls?
In areas of work it may be necessary to meet with young people 1-1. The first thing to do would be to risk assess this and attain whether it is appropriate for individual cases. This will help you think about aspects like: if another member of staff can be on the call, whether it is appropriate and possible to make sure the young person is in a room with an adult while on the call or is there another way to communicate, for example would a phone call rather than a video call be better.
Safeguarding ourselves as well as the young people is very important and if you are engaging with young people on your own, whether that is a small group or 1-1 it is important to refer to your organisations lone working policy to ensure that the correct procedures are being followed.
Social media and private messaging
Using work accounts to communicate with young people can be a great way to engage them in a way that suits them. Before doing so it is key to be familiar with your organisations policies in regards to safeguarding and social media to ensure that you are following the necessary procedures especially when it comes to things like private messaging. Here are some areas that will be covered in policies:
- Avoid private messaging where possible (group messages are better and staff can be copied into messages sent to one person)
- When creating group messages on platforms like facebook or whatsapp make sure there is at least one other member of staff who is an admin
- The passwords to your work social media shouldn’t just sit with you, it should also be accessible by another member of staff or trustee.
The main thing to remember as we explore this new normal together is that you know what to do and that if anything at all is sitting uneasy with you then reach out and talk to someone about it, check in and get some advice on the situation. No question is a silly one especially because it means that you have the young people’s best interests in mind.
In order to share knowledge, resources and best practise with other professionals during this time you can join our Facebook group ‘Change Makers – Oxfordshire Youth Provision’