Internet, Photographs and Mobile Phones

Standards and Regulations

Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (England) 2011:

Training, Support and Development Standards for Foster Care:

See also:

1. Introduction

Different ways of communicating with friends are important to a child/young people and are now a way of life from an early age. When a child is placed with you, find out their background and whether the internet, photographs and mobile phones contributed towards any abuse so that you can plan their use safely for all children but particularly those where it has been an issue. You should ask the child's social worker for advice and information.

Your knowledge of different media will vary but it is important that foster carers develop their understanding of different electronic devices, the internet and social media, and that you learn how to safeguard children when using the internet and mobile devices. Foster carers should also be aware of and alert to the signs of grooming behaviour. Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation.

If you are concerned that a child/young person is being bullied over the internet or phone, you should talk to them about it, record what is happening in the daily record and speak to the child's social worker as soon as possible.

2. Web Enabled, Internet Technology/Social Networking

You should try and take part in a child's web browsing particularly for a new child in placement; school homework is an ideal opportunity for this. Explain the web's positive and negative sides and tell them that if they are not sure about a site they should talk to you. Children should not be permitted to use sites that are also used by adults unless risk assessment has been carried out, in consultation with the social worker. These arrangements must be outlined in the child's Placement Plan and must be reviewed regularly.

Some useful guidelines are:

  • Time limits on computers should be agreed with the child/young person;
  • Appropriate internet security should be used on the computers to avoid access to inappropriate material;
  • You should set clear ground rules on the use of the internet;
  • Computers should be in areas of the house where adults can see what is being looked at rather than in a bedroom;
  • If a young person has a laptop then decide with them where and when they can use it if they are accessing the internet;
  • You should show an interest in the internet and encourage young people to be open about any concerns or problems;
  • Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they "meet" on the internet without first speaking to the child's social worker;
  • The child should never respond to messages that are rude, threatening, or makes them feel uncomfortable. Encourage the child to talk to you about messages like this. If the child receives a message or sees something on-line that you are concerned about keep a copy and make a note in the daily record;
  • Remember that people online may not be who they say they are.

Teaching the child to be cautious is important and can help when they start to use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

When they do you should ensure the child's profile and postings contain nothing that might expose their identity or whereabouts.

You should go through the site's terms and conditions, explaining them to the child - it's important you both understand them.

You should try to equip the child with the skills to decide who to trust, even when they have not met the person face-to-face and talk to the child/young person about what makes a real friend.

Again, you should be aware of and alert to indicators of grooming behaviour and possible sexual exploitation.

Social networking sites are websites where you can create a profile all about yourself and contact other people. You can also upload photos, music and videos to share with other people, and on some sites, chat to other people on forums. Popular social networking websites include Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter but there are others.

Social networking sites are often used by perpetrators as an easy way to access children and young people for sexual abuse. The Serious Crime Act (2015) introduced an offence of sexual communication with a child. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under 16 years of age. The Act also amended the Sex Offences Act 2003, it is an offence for an adult to arrange to meet with someone under 16 having communicated with them on just one occasion (previously it was on at least two occasions).

Radical and extremist groups may use social networking to attract children and young people into narrow ideologies that are intolerant of diversity: this is similar to the grooming process and exploits the same vulnerabilities. The groups concerned include those linked to extreme Islamist, or Far Right/Neo Nazi ideologies, extremist Animal Rights groups and others who justify political, religious, sexist or racist violence. 

Children may be drawn to adopt a radical ideology through a failure to appreciate the bias in extremist material; in addition by repeated viewing of extreme content they may come to view it as normal.

'Internet Abuse' relates to four main areas of abuse to children:

  • Abusive images of children (although these are not confined to the Internet);
  • A child or young person being groomed for the purpose of Sexual Abuse;
  • Exposure to pornographic or other offensive material via the Internet; and
  • The use of the internet, and in particular social media, to engage children in extremist ideologies.

It should be noted that creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. A young person is breaking the law if they:

  • Take an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend;
  • Share an explicit image or video of a child, even if it's shared between children of the same age;
  • Possess, download or store an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.

However, if a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action is not in the public interest.

With effect from 29 June 2021, section 69 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 expanded so-called 'revenge porn' to include threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.

3. Photographs

If it is OK to take pictures or videos always ask the child's permission first and make sure they are clear on who will see them and why.

You should try and take photographs regularly of the child/young person to help record their life; it may also help when putting together their Life Story book. See Keeping Memories.

You should be clear on who can give consent for the child to have their picture taken or be filmed for school etc.

4. Mobile Phones, Social Networking Sites and Apps

'Smart' mobile phones and some apps offer text messaging, taking pictures, sending and receiving them, sending and receiving video clips and sound tracks, as well as access to the internet which means a child can download pictures and videos.

With a camera phone a child/young person can also send pictures of themselves, friends and where they live, which can have security implications for some Looked After Children.

It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others and an agreement reached between the young person, social worker and foster carer about how safely to do this.

The following is a set of guidance for what should be considered or when a child or young person has a mobile phone:

  • Age appropriate use of the phones – Can the child take their phone to school? Do they need to hand in their phone at the end of the evening before they go to bed?
  • Safety – does the phone have internet access and if so have the carer, social worker and child all signed the contract to agree that the carer will periodically check the phone for appropriate and safe usage? If the agreement has been made that the phone will not be checked document why;
  • Where there are concerns about the use of the phone, you should report them to the child's social worker and discuss appropriate sanctions – should the phone be removed?
  • Where it is considered and evidence is available to suggest that the child's mobile phone is placing the child at risk, the phone can be removed as an immediate measure. If this situation occurs, reporting to the supervising social worker or support worker and discussions about who should inform the child's social worker should be done at the earliest opportunity and action to remedy this situation taken. This should be recorded within the contract;
  • Contact with birth families can often be the source of distress and upset. If the use of a mobile phone affects contact negatively with family this should be reported and consideration given to what measures can be taken by the child's social worker to address this;
  • How is the credit for the phone managed? It is the responsibly of the young person to maintain credit for their personal phone with your support. Consideration should be given to pocket money, activities and any part time working undertaken by the young person. Appropriate support to encourage ordinary 'teenage behaviour' in relation to current mobile phone communication should be considered carefully. It is imperative that looked after children are not discriminated against simply because they are in the care system and they should still be given the same opportunities as their peer groups whilst being mindful of the safeguarding issues.

Mobile phone network providers operate a barring and filtering mechanism to prevent those under 18 years accessing 18 rated content. The service can be provided for both contract and pay as you go phones. You are advised to explore this with the network provider that a child/young person uses or see what other services they offer.