by Author Carol Reid

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Safeguarding - guidance and considerations as organisations move learning online

Youth Music recently ran a virtual network meeting on safeguarding, a live issue for many organisations right now as they adapt to new ways of working with young people – particularly as they move their communication and learning online.

Attendees came from a diverse mix of organisations and worked with young people of varying ages and backgrounds. We brought on board two specialists with expertise in online safety and organisational safeguarding. This blog draws together the key learning from the session and signposts to further resources.

The context: balancing accessibility, risk and mitigation

Matters of safeguarding are not always clear cut, and there is no one-size-fits-all response to common questions. Instead, it is down to organisations to assess risk, agree mitigation, and apply the right practices to help keep young people, staff and volunteers safe. During social distancing, organisations are grappling with tensions between the need to be accessible to young people and, at the same time, having tight enough protocols in place to protect everyone’s safety.

A very real example of this includes whether it is appropriate to conduct an online session with a young person from their bedroom. Under normal circumstances this may not be standard practice – however in the present situation this could be the only way of maintaining engagement with some young people, who may be living in overcrowded conditions with no other private space. The organisation asking this question had taken a decision to allow this by taking mitigation actions to balance the risks and ensure young people’s safety. This included gaining parental consent, the use of virtual backgrounds, making meeting links accessible to parents and key staff, and recording and securely storing the sessions (limiting organisational access and not holding data on an individual staff computers).

Colleagues were urged to complete a comprehensive risk assessment to identify potential hazards and try to avoid any blind spots that may occur as a result of working in new ways. The risk assessment can then be used as a basis to agree practical ways to reduce risk and outline the specific responsibilities of all involved (young people, music leaders, parents, safeguarding leads, Trustees etc.) in an updated safeguarding policy.

Updating your safeguarding policy

Updating safeguarding policies and procedures can help manage the new risks and ways of working that have arisen from social distancing. Any revision needs an appropriate level of scrutiny (from Trustees, Senior Leaders and others in positions of responsibility) with decisions formally recorded along the way. Policies should be in line with statutory guidance regarding safeguarding and young people and should cover:

  • Roles/responsibilities (who does what)
  • Reporting (how can young people/parents/tutors report and to whom)
  • Escalation plans (how/what/who is involved)
  • Data Protection/GDPR
  • Training plans and review process (inc. regular reviews to ensure the policy is working).  

You must ensure that your policy framework is fit-for-purpose for the size and scale of your organisation’s activities, and now reflects the specific risks of working online.

Our specialists also urged attendees to not forget the needs of staff and volunteers when considering organisational safeguarding duties; including leading effective supervision and considering individual wellbeing needs arising from the new working practices (the notes from our wellbeing network meeting provide practical examples from other organisations to support staff wellbeing needs).

Ensuring that your practice reflects the policy

The safeguarding policy provides an overall organisational framework. This is put into practice through additional guidelines and procedures. These might include:

  • Training. In the digital sphere, all staff should be trained to use any agreed platform. This training should also include online safety. Staff should log any technical and/or other issues to feed into iterative development of this training.
  • Ensuring young people, tutors and parents understand how to report a concern or issue.
  • Having an escalation plan in place to cover all incidents. Staff need to know how to respond, and who else to involve in and beyond your organisation (such as the Local Authority or the police).
  • Logging issues and reviewing them regularly – are there patterns emerging that could be addressed through training/other procedures, or which you should share appropriately with partner organisations?
  • Use of online safety agreements (sometimes called acceptable use agreements or codes of conduct) with young people, staff and parents/carers. These safeguard young people and help to protect your staff.  

Online safety agreements – what should they cover?

Staff agreements might state that:

  • Staff can only communicate via the agreed platforms.
  • Images/film/personal details of young people will be stored in accordance with organisational privacy policies and the Data Protection Act.
  • Staff should maintain professional boundaries and avoid disclosure of personal information. They may be requested to use a virtual backgrounds in video meetings.
  • They will take part in online training to use the agreed platforms effectively.
  • Any issues or suspected issues will automatically be reported following the organisation’s procedures. 

Parental agreements might include:

  • Giving consent to use their device/app for teaching (e.g. Zoom terms of service state you must be 16+ to register so young people may need to use parent’s account).
  • Consent regarding filming of sessions for safeguarding or other purposes and/or being in the room during sessions.
  • Agreeing that they understand how and to whom to report if they have an issue or a concern about the sessions. 

Ground rules for young people (that they can help to set themselves) are especially important in order to embed good safeguarding practices at all levels and to help ensure that young people are behaving appropriately. These might focus on:

  • Where the session takes place.
  • Wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Not sharing content from the session on another platform without consent and organisational approval.
  • Not contacting tutors or other participants except via the agreed channels.
  • Being polite and responsible in communications online.
  • Respecting others’ work and property online.
  • Agreeing to use the organisation’s protocol on online pseudonyms etc. 
  • Agreeing that they understand how and to whom to report if they have an issue or a concern about the sessions. 

Practical considerations using online platforms

Online safety is as much about behaviour as it is about the technology. When engaging young people online:

  • Ensure you are using age-appropriate services and that your systems are secure. 
  • Make effective use of all security and safety settings on any chosen online services, hardware and software.
  • Focus on ensuring everyone understands your organisation’s expectations when it comes to the use of that tech.

Some key considerations arising from the discussion included:

  • Leaders presenting professionally and with an appropriate background.
  • The need for tutors to use an organisational account rather than a personal one.
  • Use of ‘waiting room’ functions, and only starting sessions at the agreed time when the space is supervised (note that the automatic use of waiting rooms has been implemented by Zoom to tackle some of the platform’s recent reported security issues – if you’re using Zoom then this blog covers all the ways you can secure your ‘virtual classroom’).
  • Specifying that participants use their own full name so that they can be vetted before being let into the meeting.
  • Making sure the link to the online meeting is accessible to all relevant parties so they can also sit in (e.g. leaders/parents/carers).
  • Changing the settings so that participants in groups calls cannot message each other during the meeting (but they can still message the leader).
  • Giving young people the option to have their camera on or off.

Further guidance

The Department of Education has issued guidance for schools on safeguarding and remote education with practical ideas which can be adapted for youth work online.  

The South West Grid for Learning has a wide range of template policies (including an overall online safety policy and online safety agreements for staff, parents and young people). Again, these are for school settings but can be adapted as appropriate for your organisation.

UK Safer Internet Centre offers lots of free resources and runs the free-to-access Professionals Online Safety Helpline for anyone working with young people with an online safety issue.

The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance (working with Arts Marketing Association, 64million Artists, and Real Ideas) has guidance specific for the cultural sector.

NetAware - produced by NSPCC, this site reviews all the latest apps, social networks and games that are doing the rounds. The site features the potential risks of each service/app, provides guidance for appropriate use and highlights the official age rating.


Many thanks to the consultants we engaged to support us during the session and provide follow up advice. We worked with: