Belfast Telegraph

Experts urge online safety forum

An online safety forum should be established to protect young people in Northern Ireland, child protection experts said.

It could make their voices heard and influence organisations developing internet safeguards, according to the research.

The growth in the use of social media has aided practises like cyber-bullying and inappropriate behaviour online. In some cases the internet has made children more accessible to predators, police have said.

The National Children's Bureau said different organisations should improve collaboration to combat the threat.

Its director, Celine McStravick, said: "To achieve this level of strategic coordination we recommend the establishment of an e-safety forum for Northern Ireland.

"The required level of strategic coordination will not be achieved by one organisation working alone. It will only be possible through effective collaboration across the local key players identified in this study and indeed the key UK-wide organisations.

"There is a role for an independent organisation such as the Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland to take the lead in developing this forum."

The Bureau carried out the research on behalf of the Board, which already brings together a range of experts.

The report found 25 different organisations in Northern Ireland were working to keep children and young people safe online.

Ms McStravick said: "We asked young people and parents how they would find help with e-safety issues.

"Most young people had no problem finding information online but the search engines also directed young people to unhelpful and risky sites.

"Some parents said they might not always use the internet to find help on e-safety and might go to people or organisations they know instead."

Last year the PSNI launched a major probe into child sexual exploitation.

Detectives identified a group of 22 young people at risk and earmarked up to 50 people as suspects.

Hugh Connor, chairman of the Safeguarding Board, said the report and recommendations highlight a clear need for leadership and co-ordination in promoting e-safety in Northern Ireland, including the establishment of a forum.

"The Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland accepts the recommendations and looks forward to working with everyone involved to make e-safety a reality," he added.


From Belfast Telegraph