Last Updated on 16th March 2023

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Hello and welcome to Safeguarding Soundbites, the podcast that brings you all the latest safeguarding news and advice. This week, we’re talking about National Child Exploitation Awareness Day, ChatGPT and the Online Safety Bill.

Saturday the 18th of March sees National Child Exploitation Day, with this year’s theme focusing on child sexual exploitation. This form of child sexual abuse occurs when someone uses grooming alongside the promise of an exchange, such as gifts, money, affection etc. The crime can be perpetrated by anyone, including family members, group leaders or strangers. National Child Exploitation Day aims to bring awareness and remind people to think about, identify and speak out against child exploitation. In recognition of the day, we’ve released an article explaining what child sexual exploitation is, how to recognise the signs and a series of videos from CSE specialist Jacqui Montgomery Devlin, covering the topic. To access all of these valuable resources, download the Safer Schools NI App or visit saferschoolsni.co.uk.

Figures from the PSNI have revealed that online child grooming crimes have risen by nearly a third. Specialist officers have had their busiest year since 2010, with thousands of devices being seized and tens of thousands of indecent images of children being discovered. Online sexual communication with children has risen more than 30% since 2021 and possession or sharing of indecent images increasing by 22%. Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Brennan said there’s been an increase in the reporting of offences and encouraged people to get in touch with the PSNI if they’re worried about a child.

In the news this week, an updated version of ChatGPT, the online artificial intelligence chatbot, has been released. Alongside all the usual features, like generating email text, computer code and even writing poetry, the newest version can respond to images. So, if you’ve found a photo of a meal you’d like to make, you can upload the image and GPT-4 will respond with a recipe. It can also now process around eight times as many words.

Although ChatGPT might sound like the ideal AI, it has raised concerns amongst academics and safeguarding professionals alike. Stories have appeared in the press about the chatbot responding to prompts with inappropriate and harmful replies. There’s also apprehension about the impact on education should it be used by pupils. Even the creators have warned about the potential for misinformation. Our online safety experts are keeping tabs on the potential pitfalls of AI chatbots and as always, the risks they might pose to children and young people – look out for more on this soon.

As the Online Safety Bill makes its way through the House of Lords, five of the UK’s leading children’s charities have urged the government to give children and young people an independent online advocate. The advocate would act like a consumer watchdog, promoting and protecting the interests of children and young people to Ofcom. The charities, including the NSPCC and Barnardo’s, see the role as a type of early warning system who can alert regulator Ofcom about potential online harms.

The Prime Minister has spoken out in support of the Bill, saying that his daughter getting her own phone has made him more aware about risks children are facing when they go online. He believes that the Bill will bring peace of mind to parents about what their children are being exposed to online and bring appropriate age controls.

The Online Safety Bill was introduced to the House of Commons exactly one year ago on the 17th of March 2022 and is due to be passed by April this year, although it is still making its way through the system. As always, we’ll keep you updated on any major developments as they happen.

That’s all for this week. Thank you for listening and remember to give us a follow on social media – just search for Safer Schools NI on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Speak to you next time!

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