What is the Professionals Online Safety Helpline?
The Professionals Online Safety Helpline (POSH) is a national helpline and part of the UK Safer Internet Centre that assists members of the children’s workforce with any online safety and safeguarding issue. The service is operated by South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) and co-funded by the European Commission.
The service was set up in 2011 following emerging evidence regarding the new challenges faced by professionals in the digital world. Broadly these challenges were twofold and included:
- the challenge of responding to online incidents experienced by young people under the care of professionals and;
- the challenge of dealing with abuse professionals themselves might experience online
Whilst, in 2011, many services existed which directly supported young people and their parents with online issues, there was a gap in the market for a more specialist service to assist professionals; POSH was borne out of this gap.
Since its inception, POSH has helped a wide range of professionals including teachers, other school staff, early years practitioners, police, foster and adoption carers, youth club leaders, volunteers, sports coaches, and medical practitioners. POSH operates an email and helpline service, open Monday-Friday, 10-4.
Helpline practitioners offer independent and confidential advice on a number of issues including cyberbullying, gaming, grooming, sexting, inappropriate online behaviour, digital privacy and reputation management. The service also advises on how to understand and apply government guidelines regarding technology use in schools, alongside signposting to relevant resources and support services.
Finally, POSH has a unique relationship with a number of industry platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Roblox, TikTok, Microsoft (which includes LinkedIn, Bing, Xbox, Skype and Minecraft) and Google (which includes YouTube, YouTube Kids, Google Search and Blogger).
Where helpline clients are having issues with removing harmful content hosted on these social media platforms, POSH is able to act as a mediator, escalating content for removal.
What is the purpose of this report?
Research exploring the operation of support services has an integral role to play in improving practice and facilitating the exchange of knowledge. Whilst a pilot year evaluation into helpline operations was carried out in 2012, and a more focused piece of research explored intimate image abuse on POSH in 2019, there exists no recent research evaluating overall trends on POSH.
Digital technologies and online life have become almost unrecognisable since 2011 when the helpline opened, and there is a need to keep abreast of this change. In order to gain a greater understanding of the types of challenges facing members of the children’s workforce today, including the ways in which these have changed in the last 19 years, this report presents mixed-methods research carried out on cases dealt with by POSH in 2019.
This report begins by presenting top level statistics, it then moves on to discussing more complex cases observed on the helpline. It concludes by outlining suggestions for responding to emerging trends, alongside offering recommendations for helpline growth and development. The principle author of this report is both a trained social researcher and a practitioner on POSH.
Who is this report for?
The primary purpose of this research was to review current helpline trends so that these could be fed back into service provision. However, this report has also been designed with third parties in mind in the interests of information and best practice sharing.
To that end, it will appeal to educational establishments, professionals who use the service, government departments, and other support agencies involved in the care of young people, including the police and local authorities.
More broadly, this report will also be of interest to academics, researchers, journalists and others with an occupational interest in education, professional wellbeing and online safety.
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