CHILDREN are to be protected from on-line paedophiles through the education of parents and the introduction of internet security measures in schools.
Cyber bullying, online victimisation of teachers, downloading adult material, suggestive posing and naive disclosure of personal details to potential predators are just some of the problems confronting parents and teachers in the digital age.
Now Cheshire County Council is introducing a web filter on school computers capable of providing teacher-controlled access to educational pages but which detects and blocks attempts to access unsuitable material before it reaches the screen.
And the county will attempt to bridge the generational digital divide between parents and children – by educating the former on their key role in avoiding risks posed by internet technology.
The moves will meet some of the major recommendations of the recent Government-funded Byron Review into the risks faced by children from exposure to harmful material on the internet or in video games.
About 100,000 Cheshire schoolchildren – from reception class to Sixth Form – use computers as part of their education. And while the current system blocks most access to social networking and inappropriate sites, a few loopholes do exist worrying heads, teachers and parents who are already concerned about misuse of popular sites like BeBo, Myspace and Facebook via personal PCs.
The county’s IT experts, in partnership with the police, have begun to talk to parents at primary and secondary schools advising not only in managing children’s access by using the right software but also how make the best use of the internet’s educational possibilities.
Linda Brown, Cheshire’s head of inclusion and education, said: “The Byron review recognised that many parents do not feel empowered to manage risks in the digital world in the same way as they do in the real world.
“They frequently feel helpless and sometimes unfairly blame IT education for some of the things that youngsters get up to on these sites via their home PCs. Even with the best protection that technology can provide there is no 100% guarantee.”
Added Mrs Brown: “Byron states ‘children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks’ and stresses that their safety is a major concern for parents and society generally. To appreciate the risks – and the potential educational benefits – parents have to understand the technology and we are helping them to do just that.”
Psychologist Dr Tanya Byron spent six months on the government commission review.
Among her recommendations was the creation of a UK Council on child internet safety, better regulation of the industry and better information and education, with government, law enforcement, schools and children’s services all involved.
In Cheshire, the local children’s safeguarding board, the multi-disciplinary partnership responsible for the safety of all children, will tackle the issues through a newly formed e-safety committee.