By Leah Conway
As schools remain closed to the majority of children, many young people have had to resort to spending more time online in order to complete schoolwork and interact with friends.
Unfortunately, lockdown restrictions can increase young peoples vulnerability and risk of being harmed by online threats such as online sexual abuse, exploitation and grooming.
In response to these concerns, The Marie Collins Foundation (MCF) has launched a pilot initiative in Kirklees in an attempt to help protect young people online.
MCF is a North Yorkshire-based charity who specialise in safeguarding and raising awareness of online child sexual abuse.
They have been working with West Yorkshire Police, Kirklees Safeguarding Children Partnership and Kirklees Council Education to tackle these fears of increased risk.
They aim to raise awareness around the risks that young people may face online by sharing information with parents, young people, schools and safeguarding professions.
Their ‘Stay Safe’ campaign uses the anagram COVID. It spells out C (Children) O (Online are) V (Vulnerable to) I (Internet) D (Dangers).
Tink Palmer MBE, CEO of Marie Collins Foundation, commented “Those of us working in this field day in, day out are concerned that children could be at increased risk at this time.
“We are not saying children in Kirklees are at greater risk than anywhere else, but our police and safeguarding partners in the district are being proactive and are keen to work with us to protect children.
“Together we aim to offer increased awareness and safeguards to the children who attend the 35 high schools as well as independent schools and youth organisations in the area, especially those who are currently shielding and learning from home.”
The charity has been able to carry out their campaign through a grant funded by the Safer Communities Fund.
The fund is run by West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson.
Mr Burns-Williamson stated “I was delighted to be able to provide a grant for this partnership project from my recent, extraordinary Safer Communities Fund round.
“The recent grant round had a specific focus on helping support communities locally with the impact of COVID-19, and online safety is one of the key areas identified.
“It’s fantastic to see this project launched throughout West Yorkshire, and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of these new resources to help keep young people safe online.”
Detective Inspector Alex Bacon, of the Kirklees Child Safeguarding Unit, has reassured that this work will not be limited to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Bacon said, “Kirklees safeguarding officers welcome all opportunities to work with partners both during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards to support children in staying safe in the online environment where they can be vulnerable to abuse.”
Kirklees Cabinet member for Children, Cllr Viv Kendrick, also commented saying that “Keeping children and young people safe, including online, is vital in supporting local families.
Cllr Kendrick said: “As a council, we already carry out a wide range of work to promote online safety, but the dangers have been highlighted more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic when we know many children are spending more time online.
“We are pleased to be working with our partners to continue tackling this very important issue. Helping children and young people to stay safe and have the best start in life is an absolute priority.”
The Marie Collins Foundation remains the UK’s only charity dedicated to the recovery needs of young people you have been or at risk of being harmed online.