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25th January 2017

Keeping Vulnerable Adults Safe Online – Safer Internet Day

The internet has transformed modern life. This is equally true for individuals who receive care in Wales. Many individuals with learning disabilities use the internet for accessing benefits, entertainment, socialising, seeking employment or achieving other well-being ‘determinants’ (Social Services and Well-being wales Act, 2014). Opportunities for individuals in care to access the internet may be less than the general population. They may also need tuition to safely access, and ongoing supervision to help keep them safe online.

Safer Internet Day, 2017

In pursuit of online safety Safer Internet Day 2017 will be celebrated globally on Tuesday 7th February, with the slogan ‘Be the change: Unite for a better internet’. Events will be going on throughout Wales. Whilst the day focuses on keeping children and young people safe, internet safety is an equally important issue for adults in care settings with learning disabilities, mental health difficulties or experiencing other issues which make them vulnerable to predatory, abusive or coercive internet activity.

However, there is little media attention to keeping vulnerable adults safe online and consequently best advice is more difficult to come by. One organisation that is active around such advice is the charity Respond working on behalf of Safer Net – a national Network of groups and campaigners, who want to support people with learning disabilities to stay safe when using the internet.

They aim to ensure that disabled individuals, their families and carers understand about online safety, different ways in which abuse occurs and what can be done if someone is targeted. The Network is an unfunded, voluntary group and has produced some guidelines for those working with disabled individuals.

  1. Remember the positives! - The internet has much to offer people with learning disabilities but will often need support in understanding the complexities of online relationships and managing risks.
  1. Carry out risk assessments for the people you support - Anticipating the main area of risks which an individual might encounter, given the nature of their disability and type of use will go towards effectively managing those risks.
  1. Develop a Social Media Policy- If your employer doesn't already have one, encourage them to introduce one. This will enable you to a) support people with learning disabilities to use social media, and b) to maintain professional boundaries. The policy should include, for example, advice on whether you can accept friend requests from the people you support.
  1. Inform yourself - Some people use the internet more than others, but if your job is to support people with learning disabilities, you have a responsibility to familiarise yourself with this territory. Ask your employer for training if you feel you need it.

The transformational nature of the internet can be key to enabling disabled individuals to access social, training and entertainment opportunities. It can afford disabled individuals a normalised and safe environment. However, it can also place individuals in hazardous situations. Services working with people with learning disabilities need to be aware of potential internet risks and support service users to stay safe online.

Further information is available at 

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Nic Bowler

Welsh Care and Social Services Inspectorate Specialist

Dr Nicholas Bowler is a researcher and consultant to government-level [Welsh Government Review of Secure Services, 2009] – specialising in QA/compliance focused projects. He has interests in clinically relevant training, service development and research. He enjoys working with clients to support them in identifying problems and initiating projects to improve practice.

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