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How can we help young people in care to thrive online?

We look back at the Social Care and Digital Roundtable we hosted with Carnegie UK Trust to discuss the support that carers and professionals need to help young people in care thrive online.

Parent Zone provides information to families, schools and professionals to help all children cope with online challenges, develop digital resilience, and be educated for a digital future.

Carnegie UK Trust’s #NotWithoutMe programme addresses the digital exclusion experienced by many children and young people across the UK and Ireland and supports innovative digital inclusion projects and research which increase the digital skills and resilience of vulnerable young people.

When it comes to young people in care, there are many systemic challenges that need addressing to ensure they have equality of access and support and are helped to develop their digital resilience in a way that takes account of the real safeguarding risks faced by children in care.

To explore this issue and find practical ways forward, social workers, foster carers and those working in youth advocacy and research were invited to a  ‘Social Care and Digital Roundtable’ event to explore ways to address some of these complex challenges. The day was a mixture of sharing experience, learning new approaches and working together to prototype some practical solutions.

Firstly, we looked at some of the key challenges that carers and professionals face in supporting care-experienced young people to thrive online, including:

  • lack of discussion of a young person’s online preferences, and digital use, during a Placement Plan Meeting, so the foster carer may feel ‘in the dark’ about what a vulnerable young person does online.

  • overzealous filtering and blocking intended to protect young people, leaving many vulnerable young people unable to access apps and websites that they enjoy.

  • social workers and foster carers unable to keep up with the latest apps and digital trends that young people are interested in and feeling unsure or lacking in confidence.

  • the expectation gap between what a young person assumes they will have in terms of digital access compared to the reality.

  • varying levels of access to Wi-Fi and technology when young people move between placements, creating frustration and confusion for young people

  • lack of consistency and support when it comes to decisions around digital access for looked after children and young people.

The afternoon was dedicated to addressing some of these challenges. Everyone put their creative thinking caps on and worked in teams to come up with practical ideas and to pitch them back to the group for discussion.

Although teams could focus on any challenge, there was a consensus that professionals working with young people need ways to better understand the needs and preferences of vulnerable young people and to help bridge the digital understanding and expectations gap.

Everyone agreed that having a deeper understanding of digital risks, opportunities and resilience along with tools to facilitate communication with young people about their digital lives would really help professionals and carers to support young people.  Both foster carers and social workers identified that having more information about a young person’s digital use and preferences during the Placement Plan Meeting would help them feel better equipped to support the young person in their care. This was also highlighted as a good opportunity for young people to have their views and opinions about digital heard and taken seriously.

To support this a tool enabling professionals and carers to access information about the latest digital trends, potential risks and some positive ways in which a young person can thrive online would be helpful.

From a policy perspective, everyone felt that including digital as a setting in contextual safeguarding planning and considering young people’s need for digital resilience alongside the requirement to protect them from harm would support them in delivering day-to-day care,

At Parent Zone, we understand that helping young people to thrive online is a major collaborative effort and there is a role for everyone. As a result of the insight and creative input from everyone at the roundtable Parent Zone are developing an information hub for professionals and foster carers.

Working directly with foster carers and social workers to find out what it is they need and how we can help them in a connected world helps us to create the best practical tools and resources that will make a real difference to the lives of young people in care.

The roundtable was part of a series of ongoing lab events that focus on finding practical responses to complex digital resilience challenges for children, families and professionals with additional support needs. If you would like to take part in future labs please get in touch.


Useful resources for parents, carers and professionals:

Parent Zone’s parent guides


Parent Info – a free expert information service from Parent Zone and CEOP

Digital Resilience Membership