The Dot Com Children’s Foundation and Essex Police have launched a trial of an online safety resource at a primary school in Thurrock, Essex.
The resource will be used in six schools, for review and fine tuning by children and teachers, before being rolled out across England and Wales later in the year.
Created for children by children, Dot Com Digital aims to prevent young people becoming victims of online grooming, radicalisation, exploitation and bullying by giving them the confidence to recognise warning signs and reach out to an adult for help.
Developed in on-going consultation with children, Dot Com Digital is the result of a collaboration by Dot Com Children’s Foundation and Essex Police.
Built by technology consultancy DataArt, a gold affiliate partner of Microsoft, who will provide cloud infrastructure, it uses digital technology to draw a teacher’s attention to children who may be at higher risk of becoming a victim of crime.
Sharon Doughty, founder of Dot Com Children’s Foundation, Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Worron, Head of Public Protection at Essex Police, Jen Housego, Head of Digital Change at Essex Police, and Anton Bagrov of DataArt, launched the project at Holy Cross Catholic Primary School in Thurrock.
The South Ockendon school was selected to be one of the first to trial the resource as they have been a flagship school for the programme for six years.
In June last year, 45 children from year six took part in a workshop to put forward ideas and help create content that would appeal to their peers. Two thousand children at schools in London, Stoke, Birmingham and North Wales will also take part in a pilot before Dot Com Digital is rolled out nationally in October.
The programme is an enhanced, digital version of an education programme Dot Com Children’s Foundation has been using successfully in primary schools nationally for more than 15 years, in which children complete a series of worksheets addressing a range of issues including social values, feelings of worry and how they feel about themselves.
Dorothy Com, or Dot Com to her friends, a friendly cartoon character at the forefront of the original programme, who has gained widespread popularity with children, will now be taken digital and be the “face” of Dot Com Digital.
Aimed at primary school children aged nine to 11, Dot Com Digital takes pupils through online safety lessons recording thoughts and feelings in their own personal digital journal. Dot helps them learn about risks they could encounter in the digital world and gives them the chance to ask their teacher for a ‘Dot Com Minute’ to discuss any worries or concerns they have. It also teaches children to recognise their own signs of danger, and to understand their feelings and how to manage them.
The system alerts teachers to children who have written or drawn material that could indicate they are at risk. As a double safeguarding measure Designated Safeguarding Leads in schools are simultaneously alerted. If concerned, schools are then able to share information with appropriate agencies such as police or social care services.
The project was conceived in 2017, when it was identified an innovative approach was needed to tackle the online threat against young people. A partnership between Essex Police and Dot Com Children’s Foundation was created.
Technology company DataArt subsequently joined the partnership offering their expertise. DataArt built the platform, gifting it free of charge, and Microsoft agreed to host the platform on its Azure Cloud at no cost. The trial will be fully funded until the end of the year and will be free for schools to use. Training on how to use the system to its full potential will also be offered at no extra cost.
Sharon Doughty, founder of Dot Com Children’s Foundation, said: “I grew up in an abusive home where I did not have a voice. This led me 15 years ago to set up the Dot Com Children’s Foundation. This new development, taking a successful programme into the digital sphere, means that with the help of Dot Com more children will be able to talk with their teachers, the police and other professionals about their online worries and are part of building a resource which will help protect them and their friends in the future.
“The children in this project were the driving force, and their continued participation is key to this unique programme.”
BJ Harrington, Chief Constable of Essex Police, said: “Children can be among the most vulnerable in our community but sadly, it is a reality that online threats against them are increasing. This is not an issue that one single agency can tackle effectively and I am proud to be part of a partnership that is so passionate about doing all it can to protect young people.
“Dot Com Digital takes an innovative approach, using the latest technology and the imagination of a group of children to help them and their peers recognise the signs of grooming, exploitation and bullying and have the confidence to seek help.”
Anton Bagrov, Senior Account Executive at DataArt, said: “Over the past few months we have worked in consultation with children from Holy Cross Primary to create the Dot Com Digital platform and it’s exciting today to see everyone’s hard work come to life.
“The resource is based on the “Dot Com” programme, which has been running as a paper-based resource for fifteen years, and we are proud to support the digitalisation of the platform that will give children across the UK access to the programme. It has been an incredible and important project to be part of and demonstrates how technology can be used for good.”