Digital technology's safeguarding role

  • Digital technology – or digitech – features in almost every area of modern life
  • Many organisations with safeguarding responsibilities are making innovative use of digitech
  • We look at the advantages and challenges of using digitech for safeguarding purposes

Digital technology (digitech) has had a profound impact on the public and voluntary sectors, transforming the way people are able to access and engage with a variety of different services.

Anyone with internet access may now be able to book a GP appointment online, or use their mobile phone to donate to charity or pay to use a council car park.

Local authorities, schools and other organisations with safeguarding responsibilities are exploring how digital technology can be used to help protect vulnerable individuals from harm. Here, we look at some of the potential benefits and pitfalls of using digitech in safeguarding.

1. Engaging with vulnerable groups

One of the clearest advantages of digitech is that it can help organisations reach out to vulnerable groups and individuals who might be harder to engage with through more traditional means.

An individual experiencing abuse or neglect, for example, may feel more comfortable seeking out help or information online in the first instance, rather than speaking to somebody face to face.

Organisations that work with young people, in particular, may find it easier to engage with them via digital technology. There are a number of examples of digitech being used in this way.

Mind of My Own is an organisation that creates apps designed to encourage closer communication between schools, social workers and young people. These apps are designed to make it easier for young people to raise a concern, make a complaint or get something off their chest.

Mind of My Own has also developed an app specifically designed for very young children and those with learning difficulties – an example of how online safeguarding resources can be tailored for certain groups, or individuals with particular vulnerabilities.

See It, Stop It is an app created by the Hampshire Safeguarding Adults Board that provides clear and simple guidance for vulnerable individuals who might be at risk, as well as those who could be in a position to look out for them, such as friends, neighbours and family members. It includes information on spotting signs of abuse, and maps and contact details of nearby support services.

Many of these apps also include guidance to help service providers, such as carers, teachers and social workers, reach out to their service users.

2. Aiding defensible decision-making

Digitech is helping social workers to speed up decision-making processes and reduce the potential for errors when recording decisions or making referrals. Examples include social workers using iPads during visits to record real-time information, or apps that can guide them through the process of escalating concerns regarding a vulnerable individual, such as the Safeguarding Adults Derbyshire App.

Digitech can also help organisations to demonstrate compliance with legislative/regulatory requirements, for example by making it easier to keep a record of the safeguarding training undertaken by staff and volunteers (see below).

3. Supporting training and professional development

With the landscape of safeguarding constantly evolving, digitech can help organisations keep up to date on emerging and evolving risks, and regulatory or legislative changes. Used in this way, digitech can complement and support the formal training that staff may receive.

For example, apps can be used to provide quick links to the latest safeguarding legislation/regulations, or best practice guidelines.

As our recent whitepaper, Understanding Safeguarding, demonstrates, it is important organisations have mechanisms in place to test the effectiveness of their safeguarding training. This is another area where digitech can help. Some apps, for example, include refresher-type quizzes, to test staff on their knowledge and understanding of the training they have received.

Challenges of digitech

Digital technology is not without its challenges, and it can only prove an effective tool if both service users and service providers actively engage with it. The introduction of new technology can sometimes be greeted with concern or resistance if staff, volunteers and service users themselves, do not feel they have the skills or expertise to use it properly.

The use of digitech also requires organisations to make an ongoing commitment to the technology – both in terms of time and money. Then there is the issue of data security. Any system that relies on internet connectivity is potentially vulnerable to data breaches, be they accidental or malicious.

In the boxout on this page, we have listed a few of the questions you might want to consider when weighing up the potential benefits and pitfalls of using digitech in safeguarding.

How Zurich Municipal can help

We are the only UK insurer to have a dedicated Safeguarding Risk Consultant, Marie Williams, who guides our work in supporting organisations to better understand their safeguarding exposures and better manage their risks.

We have also produced a Safeguarding Risk Resource – a hub that contains a wealth of content on a variety of safeguarding topics.