Sexting: advice for professionals Policies and procedures and what you need to do
It’s important anyone working with children and young people understands the dangers of sexting and knows what to do if they ever need to help a young person who has received or sent an explicit image, video or message.
Writing a sexting policy and procedures
All organisations must have a clear policy outlining their approach and commitment to protecting children from the dangers of sexting. There should also be clear procedures that detail the actions which must be taken if a child makes a disclosure about sexting.
All staff and volunteers must be familiar with these documents and parents and young people should be able to access them. This should sit alongside your overall safeguarding policy.
A sexting policy should include:
- what sexting is
- why young people do it
- what the law says
- how the organisation will protect children from the risks
These are clear steps for staff and volunteers to follow if they have concerns about or become aware of young people sharing explicit images or videos of themselves or others.
They should cover how to report, review, assess and take action on sexting.
Safeguarding children should always be the focus of all actions. There's specific guidance for schools and police.
Our guidance on sexting and specific guidance for schools and police officers can be useful for any organisation writing their policy and procedures:
What is sexting?
All of the information you need to know about sexting, the dangers and risks involved and guidance to help parents.
Sexting guidance for schools and police
Find out more about the non-statutory guidance for schools and colleges in England and the police on the sharing of indecent images of children on our legislation, guidance and policy page.
Briefing for schools
Find out how to give children and young people advice around personal safety and to raise awareness about the risks of sexting.
What to do if a young person makes a disclosure
If a young person tells you they’ve been involved with sexting, it’s important to remain calm and be understanding. You should follow your organisation’s policy and procedures.
Try and find out:
- if it's an image, video or message
- how the young person is feeling
- how widely has the image been shared and with whom
- if there were any adults involved
- if it's on an organisational or personal device
The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) recommends that safeguarding should be the main concern of any investigation into a sexting incident; and that we should avoid criminalising young people necessarily.
If the images were not intended to cause harm and the young people involved have given consent, you may decide to handle the incident within your organisation.
Avoid looking at the image, video or message. If it's on a device belonging to your organisation, you need to isolate it so that nobody else can see it. This may involve blocking the network to all users.
Details of the incident and the actions taken must be recorded in writing by the person responsible for child protection within the organisation.
Contact the police and children's social care if:
- somebody involved is over the age of 18 or under the age of 13
- there are concerns about the ability to give consent
- the images are extreme or show violence
- the incident is intended to cause physical or emotional harm
- there's reason to believe that the young person has been blackmailed, coerced or groomed
If you think a child is in immediate danger - call the police on 999 or call us on 0808 800 5000, straight away.
Guidance for police and schools can also be found on our Online abuse: legislation, policy and practice page.
Following a sexting incident, your organisation will need to review what happened and how it was dealt with to ensure that you learn and improve procedures.
Get an explicit image removed
- report the image to the site hosting it. Net Aware gives information about reporting to social media providers
- inform CEOP of the incident, if you believe the child is at risk of abuse
- contact the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) or ask the child to get in touch with Childline. Together, Childline and the IWF will try to get the image removed.
- Childline is a confidential service, but to make a report on a child’s behalf to the IWF we need to confirm who the child is and their date of birth. To confirm their identity young people can email Childline with a copy of their passport. This information will not be passed on without the child’s permission.
What to do next
It’s essential children and young people receive ongoing support. You should also involve parents, unless there’s a risk. It may also be appropriate to make a referral to a counselling service.
If you’re concerned that a child needs more support or if you’re worried they’re behaving in a sexually inappropriate way, contact us to speak with a counsellor.
Remind children that they can contact Childline at any time if they want to talk to someone about how they’re feeling.
Increasing professional and public awareness
It's important that everyone is aware of what sexting is and how it can harm children. Here's what you can do to protect them:
Anyone working with children needs to know the signs that a child may need help and how to act on concerns or a disclosure. You can:
Children need to understand the dangers of sexting, the importance of healthy relationships and know who to talk to if anything makes them feel uncomfortable.
You could use the following resources to get the conversation started:
Parents need to be educated about online safety so that they can protect their children. They should know what sexting is and understand how they can talk to their children about it. It's important they know how to deal with any issues which their children may become involved in.
The following may help:
Support for organisations
E-safety for schools
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