Exploration of the risk factors associated with online sexual grooming and professionals’ experiences of looked after children’s internet use
Sharp, Michelle Catherine
The internet is well saturated within today’s society raising anxieties for parents, carers and professionals in regard to the potential risks that children and young people could be exposed to online and how best to safeguard them from these. The risk factors associated with online sexual grooming have been explored within the existing literature although not in a systematic manner. Therefore, a systematic review was conducted to explore the characteristics and risk factors that enhance children and young people’s vulnerability to online sexual grooming. Findings revealed a number of significant associations and a complex interplay between the individual, community, their relationships and cultural factors. Previous research has demonstrated inconsistencies in regard to whether looked after children are more at risk online than their peers. Limited research exists which explores professionals’ experiences of managing their online safeguarding responsibilities. The second study used a Grounded Theory method to explore professionals’ experience of looked after children’s online use and how they balance their safeguarding responsibilities whilst supporting these young people to access online opportunities. The impact that safeguarding policies and practices have on looked after children’s ability to access these opportunities and develop resilience was also explored. It was revealed that although professionals identified that looked after children are vulnerable online, they are perhaps not any more so than some of their peers. Restrictive practices were highlighted to impact on these young people’s access to online benefits and professionals’ opportunities to educate and safeguard. This was discussed in the context of preparing these young people for life post care. These findings should be considered by parents, carers and professionals that have online safeguarding responsibilities and an influential role in the development of online policy or provision.