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Little changes that could make a big difference to the child safety tech industry

20 Oct 2020

I currently see the UK Safety Tech network and industry is a new foundling growing with rapid investment and new emerging technologies accelerated by the pandemic. I believe alongside this we should continue to explore and focus upon tech for good and specifically on multi-agency collaborative tech innovation. This must include the social care sector where little has been developed and lacks financial investment.  Safe social care tech that not only allows the younger generations to voice how this emerging tech should be shaped and designed but also celebrate all the possibilities that tech for good could contribute to protecting all children.

My mission is help champion companies and policy advisors to understand  children and young people use tech every day all day and if we are hoping to shield and protect them from on line harms they must be seen as equal. This equality is in the process of the development of the actual technologies that are in place to protect them. Notwithstanding there is quite rightly a place for detection of on line harms however if parental control and surveillance is the central driver how do children and young people learn to mange their own risks? If the main statutory agencies such as social care and the social workers that serve them do not join in this same agenda how does everything join together? Conceptually think of it in simple terms as child, online harm, abuse, parent, tech company, designed for profit, private sector, Internet poverty, social worker, single agency reporting i.e. School tech. They all are singular there is no cross cutting network or connections bringing them together. What equates to a private company or voluntary sector organistaion when they produce a piece of software that is bought by a parent can be very different through the eyes of the child. How does this work for those parents that lack the cash or knowledge to purchase there apps. For instance, how does this support the child in a home of domestic abuse or is hungry for food. There is a need to think about those that do not have easy access to the Internet let alone the statutory services for protection.

Moreover alongside the need  to minimize, deter and reduce the risk of children being exposed to harmful content, contact or conduct we must find technological ways to empower children and young people. Empower them to recognize, respond and report or even technological transmit their information about what is happening to them in the a technological safe way. At the other end there needs to be social care technology that supports this process and transform child protection with hybrids and inter disciplinary innovations. I argue that the traditional method of speaking to children in the classroom  or calling a helpline is not forward thinking especially amidst a global pandemic. There are opportunities  for children to act as equal partners so that their voices become standard operating practice for companies and organisation within the Child Safety Tech industry.

I am advocating that if we took on board some small changes now, we in the sector could make a bigger social impact in the long term. In terms of the policy landscape which should provide leadership and  guidance incorporated these changes it may allow more effective access and engagement for the sector. It just might   help the birth of social care tech as co-operative creations and generate further tech for good.  The basis of changed is based upon my research that introduces new conceptual thinking that children can also managing some of their own digital risks and wanting to revolutionize reporting of abuse and on line harms in a child friendly digital format.

  • Younger children as well as young people equally have apart to play in the co-operative creation of emerging safety tech.
  • Co-operative design with children and young people at the center of user design.
  • When the customer is the parent, carer or adult and the end users are children or young people. Include the end users in feedback so their voices and experiences can be embedded in the design.
  • Focus more on inter-disciplinary research and networks that include statutory agencies such as social care, the police and health.
  • Considerations to be given to policy implications if the agenda is driven by a bottom up approach.
  • Spend more time on understanding child’s access to these technologies and their user journeys.
  • Believe that the child has agency and power to enable us (the adults) to shape the way forward to ensure safety is not just a word, a piece of tech or an idea. Safe becomes tech as an enabler for them to engage in the online world in their language and behaviours.
  • Innovation and investment directed towards the social care sector from within the safety tech industry. Therefore not always doing what we have always done!!

Let me offer these concluding thoughts… how can there be a sector wide safety tech strategy that includes the child’s journey ? How do we map children’s journeys and experiences? How do we ensure children and young peoples’ voice are at the center of strategy and sector development? How do we push the boundaries to move beyond listening to enacting?  Our focus is of course  about identifying those at risk of harm but how do  we reach those experiencing hidden harms? How do we support preventative technology models so there is  access for all ?

It always seems impossible until its done.

Author: Dr Sarah Carlick

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