Online safety resource launches in Thurrock

MEET Dot.Dorothy Com, or Dot Com to her friends, is the character at the forefront of a new online safety resource created by Essex Police and the Dot Com Children’s Foundation.

Dot Com Digital aims to prevent children becoming victims of online grooming, radicalisation, exploitation and bullying by giving them the confidence to recognise the signs and reach out to an adult for help.

Holy Cross

Built by technology consultancy DataArt and hosted by their affiliate partner Microsoft, it also uses up to date technology to highlight to teachers children who may be at higher risk of becoming a victim of crime.

The project launched at Holy Cross Catholic Primary School in Thurrock today (Wednesday, June 5) after 45 year six children from the school took part in a workshop this time last year to put forward their ideas and help create content that would appeal to their peers.

Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Worron, Head of Public Protection and Jen Housego, Head of Digital Change at Essex Police, visited the school in Daiglen Drive, South Ockendon, alongside Sharon Doughty, Founder of Dot Com Children’s Foundation, and Anton Bagrov, Senior Account Executive at DataArt, to see the children using Dot Com Digital.

The pupils are among 2000 children at six schools across Essex, London, Stoke, Birmingham and North Wales who will take part in a pilot before Dot Com Digital is rolled out nationally in October.

Dot Com Digital is an enhanced online version of an education programme Dot Com Children’s Foundation has been using successfully in primary schools nationally for more than 15 years. The original programme saw children complete a series of worksheets designed to encourage them to think about their self-worth, worries and social values.

Aimed at primary school children aged nine to 11, the new digital version sees pupils take part in online safety lessons before completing their own personal digital journal.

Cartoon character Dot and her friends help children learn about risks they might encounter in the digital world and give them the chance to ask their teacher for a ‘Dot Com Minute’ to discuss any worries or concerns they might have. It also teaches children to recognise their own body signs of danger and understand their feelings and how to manage them.

Alerts highlighting children who have written or drawn material that could indicate they are at risk are automatically made available to the teacher and the school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead. If concerned, they are then able to share the journals with other agencies such as police and social care.

The project began in 2017 when it was identified that an innovative approach was needed to tackle online threats against young people. A partnership between Essex Police and Dot Com Children’s Foundation was created and DataArt later joined to offer their expertise. DataArt built the platform and Microsoft agreed to host the platform on its Azure Cloud at no cost. The trial is fully funded until the end of the year and training on how to use the system to its full potential will also be offered to schools 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.”

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