CLICK panelThe Marie Collins Foundation has teamed up with BT to launch a ground-breaking partnership aimed at training all frontline professionals helping to provide the appropriate support for children and families who have suffered abuse or exploitation online.  

The new initiative, CLICK: Path to Protection, is the first of its kind, and also has the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the College of Policing, Crown Prosecution Service and iSeed at University Campus Suffolk.

Speaking at the launch event today [10 Nov] MCF CEO Tink Palmer said: "This initiative will provide an invaluable resource for frontline workers working with children who have been abused and their families. Online abuse is a growing challenge which requires very specific responses in order to ensure victims and their families receive long-term support, and that goes from discovery all the way through to recovery across a range of agencies and professionals.

"Having heard reports from parents, and seen the increasing numbers of children reported to be harmed through online abuse and grooming year-on-year, we thought: 'Enough is enough - it's time we really have to get up to date with modern age of online abuse', and that starts with training for the frontline professionals who encounter it.

"Human nature doesn't change and nor does the motivation for people who wish to cause harm to young people, it's just the platform. So this programme is not about re-inventing protocols or replacing the excellent professional training set up for police, health professionals and social services but adding to their skillset and providing simple resources for professionals who first come into contact with families where online abuse is suspected to help and support them once we have left the home and they still have to interact with their child.

"We need to get more used to asking young people how they are online, how their online friendships are and how active they are – otherwise they often never come forward because they fear that by having shared explicit images etc they will be seen to have 'encouraged' the abuse, where they couldn't be further from the truth.

"That's why we really to help train up professionals as currently they just don't have tools to tackle 'hidden' online abuse. The chance to partner with BT, as a multi-national communications provider is a huge boost for us, and we are thrilled to be able to use this partnership to make sure that children and their families are continually being placed at the intervention which takes place as a result of abuse or exploitation online."

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Research conducted for BT and MCF found that 95% of frontline workers want training to support victims and families in online abuse cases. CLICK: Path to Protection will begin as a pilot scheme initially, comprising a set of nationally agreed policies, procedures and guidelines on how to deal with victims and their families. The pilot will consist of 4 projects in 4 regions of the UK, which will be evaluated by UCS and then rolled out the whole country, planned for the end of 2015.

'Psychological scars of abuse'
The training will take the form of a pathway from discovery to recovery, intended to become a best practice resource for professionals. Two types of resource will be produced for the pilot, the first to cover national policy, procedures and guidelines for protecting children and the second will be practical advice. The material will also be made universally available on the MCF website when the project is rolled out.

The initiative will be funded entirely by BT and their consumer MD Pete Oliver says it is the latest step of BT's efforts to tackle the "critical issue of online child protection"

"We've been focused on the issue of online safety since we developed the world's first cleanfeed filter to block child abuse images more than a decade ago,” he added. “We're very pleased and proud to be associated with the Marie Collins Foundation and such a valuable innovative project."

Those who receive the training will take an online test to confirm that they have understood and learnt new ways to engage with children and their families. But following a train-the-trainer approach, the ultimate aim is to cover all UK regions and to reach all frontline workers.

Speaking about her own experience of being abused at a young age, Marie Collins – patron of the Foundation which has her name – said that prevention is key but systems need to be put in place for those who it fails to ensure they can recover from the 'psychological scars of abuse'.

"The psychological impact of having explicit images [of a young person] out there [online] can do longer lasting damage to that person's mental health than the actual physical abuse. When a young person is abused in this way, they can often feel like they have done something wrong, by in some way 'encouraging' the abuse by taking or sharing those images," she added. 

"That awful feeling affects the whole way you interact with others – your family and members of the opposite sex and it becomes hard to form normal relationships even causing anxiety and, in many cases, depression where people turn to drugs or alcohol to help deal with those feelings.

"This is why it is key for training to cover the wider context of online abuse and what is needed most is a cohesive approach to form shell of protection around the families of those who experience online abuse."