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Safeguarding Board NI roadshows promote online safety

Margaret Yarr, Child Protection Officer for Northern Ireland, and Dr Peter Hamill, Secretary to the Church of Ireland Safeguarding Board, with the new guidelines leaflet for faith–based groups on the use of social media and other online communication.
Margaret Yarr, Child Protection Officer for Northern Ireland, and Dr Peter Hamill, Secretary to the Church of Ireland Safeguarding Board, with the new guidelines leaflet for faith–based groups on the use of social media and other online communication.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, has remarked that “children and young people today are either asleep or online.” Added to this, statistics released by the NSPCC indicating a 26 per cent rise in online sexual offences in Northern Ireland over the last year emphasise the ever–increasing need to keep children safe online.

The Church of Ireland Safeguarding Board has been supporting a recent series of roadshows run by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to highlight online safety and the role of child protection in this important and challenging area. A ‘Virtual Reality’ online safety awareness training pack has been produced by the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI); the Church of Ireland, alongside the Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, is an integral part of its inter–faith sub–group.

The pack, which was launched on Wednesday, 31st May, is designed to educate parents, children and young people about the risks associated with internet access and to promote positive messages on how to stay safe online. The aim of this initiative is to reach out to as many parents and children as possible by training around 1,000 staff and volunteers within Churches, other faith organisations, and the community and voluntary sectors in Northern Ireland over the next six to 12 months. It seeks to ensure that advice on how to stay safe online is communicated as widely as possible, warning about the dangers of cyber–bullying, and also hazards associated with gaming, webcams and photos, and highlighting the growing issues of consent and privacy online.

To get the initiative under way, the PSNI, who have trained around 130 officers to deliver the training, ran six evening roadshows across Northern Ireland between 5th and 14th June. Participants received ready–made electronic training materials to raise awareness within their own church settings.

Dr Peter Hamill, Secretary to the Church of Ireland Safeguarding Board, remarked: “The Board fully endorses this initiative and is delighted that the standardised SBNI training for supporting children, young people and leaders in the use of the internet is being cascaded across Northern Ireland. This training will be integrated into the Church of Ireland’s safeguarding training in the future.”

The inter–faith sub–group delivered a safeguarding conference attended by the Archbishop of Armagh and a range of Church of Ireland representatives last year. This year, the sub–group has produced agreed guidelines for use of social media and the internet with the support of the PSNI and the NSPCC. These new guidelines were emailed to all rectors during June and include advice on the use of social media, mobile phones and other devices. The Church recognises the fast–changing environment of technology and is keen to promote the principles of safe use for both young people and leaders.

Margaret Yarr, the Church’s Child Protection Officer for Northern Ireland, adds: “We cannot prevent, nor would we wish to, young people accessing the internet so we must train and support them in the safest way to engage with technology. Leaders working among young people must also understand their responsibility to ensure best practice and the protection of all.”

A version of this article was first published in the Church of Ireland Gazette.

Contact Details

Dr Ken Fennelly

Secretary, Board of Education (Republic of Ireland)
Church of Ireland House
Church Avenue
Rathmines
Dublin 6
D06 CF67
+353 (0)1 4125 609

ken.fennelly@rcbdub.org

Dr Peter Hamill

Secretary, Board of Education (Northern Ireland)
Church of Ireland House
61–67 Donegall Street
Belfast
BTI 2QH
+44 (0)28 9082 8860

edunorth@ireland.anglican.org