REACH: Online safety for children in care

Introducing REACH: online safety for children in care

Our Discovery Research highlighted that for children and young people in care, and for young care leavers, life brings more challenges than it does for their peers. That’s why we’ve developed REACH, a large-scale programme we believe will bring significant improvements to the lives of young people in care.

Children in care are disproportionately vulnerable to online risks. As part of our work to improve the safety of the internet, we’ve launched a programme that will help to ensure these vulnerable young people aren’t just safe online, but resilient and at less risk of harm.

Through REACH, we’ve worked to build a programme that can make a meaningful and significant contribution to the online safety ecosystem of young people in care and young care leavers – by improving support around digital for foster carers, bolstering the integration of digital within the care system, and by helping to elevate the voice of young people, so that they can shape the policies that support them.

Little child girl with grandmother using laptop at home

Our theory of change

To ensure we prioritise creating meaningful and sustainable impact, we’ve chosen three complementary focus areas that we will progress together to ensure maximum and lasting impact on the online safety of young people in care. These are:

1. Improving digital training and skills for foster carers
2. Increasing the integration and recognition of digital safety and resilience in children's social care systems
3. Providing more inclusive, representative and elevated opportunities for young people to influence care policy and process, focusing on digital resilience and internet safety

Based on these core aims, we’ve placed our focus on three design challenges and given grant funding and support to expert organisations working in this space, for projects lasting up to 18 months.

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Partners working to build foster carers’ digital skills and confidence

action for children

Action for Children

Action for Children is a children’s charity and a fostering agency, with over 100 years of experience finding safe and stable homes for children across the UK. They’re developing a digital product to help foster carers build their digital skills and confidence, so they can better support the children in their to care thrive online. The project will explore the experiences of foster carers, gaps in the support available and barriers to improving their skills, knowledge and confidence. It will also consider how children in care find the support they get from their foster carers and what they’d like to change.

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Enable Consortium

Led by Dr. Aiman El Asam (Psychology Department, Kingston University), Enable Consortium brings together academics, the consultancy Youthworks, online safety specialists, a youth engagement group, and both public and private care teams, to develop a CPD-accredited (Continuing Professional Development), evaluated online safety training programme for foster carers. With our funding, they will develop both basic and advanced training courses and a knowledge bank of resources and case studies, as well as providing support to foster carers in person.

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The fostering network

The Fostering Network

The Fostering Network is working in partnership with Internet Matters – a prominent online safety organisation for parents, carers, and other professionals. The organisations are also collaborating with Dr. Simon P Hammond and Dr. Kimberley Bartholomew from the University of East Anglia – leading researchers in digital resilience, and motivation andwell-being respectively. Together they will deliver CPD-accredited training, giving foster carers the choice between self-study or trainer-led learning. Our funding will help increase understanding of how supporting foster carers to improve their digital skills can positively impact the digital resilience of children in their care.

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Partners working to embed support for children’s digital lives in social care


East Sussex County Council

East Sussex County Council will create a ‘digital hub’ to spark a cultural shift for their foster carers, social workers and policy makers and ensure children and young people engage safely with the digital world. This will be supported by digital ambassadors including children in care, care leavers, foster carers, social workers and digital experts.

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Arc Adoption North East

ARC Adoption NE will build a secure and flexible digital Communications Management Application that can be used by Local Authorities and organisations to manage the varying contact scenarios between birth families and all care settings. Currently, often traditional methods of contact management can contribute to young people making unofficial and unvetted contact with their birth relatives directly, bypassing intermediaries and breaking contact agreements. The digital Communications Management Application will enable effective management and coordination of all communications, provide secure, safe communication between children and significant people in their lives, in strict accordance with their communications plan.

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Partners working to elevate young peoples’ voices to influence the services that impact on their digital safety and opportunities


St Christopher's Fellowship

St Christopher’s Fellowship is a charity providing fostering, children’s homes, care leaver accommodation and support and early help services. With our funding, they’ll increase young people’s influence over policy and training for fostering digital safeguarding. Care leavers will co-facilitate policy and practice review workshops with fostered young people and carers. They’ll enrich practice and decision-making to reflect the complexity of young people’s needs, supporting them to develop online skills, and supporting natural adolescent development of identity safely in the digital space.

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Middlesbrough Council

Middlesbrough Council will gather views and elevate the voice of children and young people in their care to affect best practice policy, working with care-experienced young people (including an apprentice) to co-design policy for audiences including corporate parents, social workers and children in care. Changes made through the programme will be built into the Council’s foster carer procurement, helping to bring about permanent and systematic change in their social care system.

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Who Cares? Scotland

Through their Annual Participation Programme, Who Cares? Scotland will focus on the theme of Digital Wellbeing. They’ll provide participation opportunities for their membership of over 3,000+ care experienced people and will work with their National Representative Body to use these findings to influence policy and practice. With our funding, they’ll recruit a Digital Participation Officer who’ll widen engagement in the programme, set targets to ensure representation of care, work with Edinburgh University to capture the learning and develop effective digital resources for young people, carers and professionals. Although based in Scotland, they’ll work with partners to share the impact UK-wide.

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East Sussex Council

East Sussex County Council will work with digital ambassadors including children in care, care leavers, foster carers, social workers and digital experts, who’ll form a Digital in Care Steering Group to provide consultations, surgeries and seminars to other children and young people in care, foster carers and social workers.

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Barnardo’s and Plymouth City Council have joined forces for a 2-year co-production programme that takes the innovative approach of improving digital resilience by tackling loneliness and isolation. The goal is to apply a proven model of co-production with care-experienced young people to influence and shape services, so they can support young people to be connected safely - thereby reducing loneliness and isolation, and in turn, online vulnerability. They aim to share their lessons learned so they can be used more widely to improve outcomes for young people in foster care.

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Developing the REACH: online safety for children in care programme