Jim Gamble: We are losing the race to protect our young

Technology and the children who use it won't wait for slow-moving child-protection services and the police to catch up

Share
Related Topics

I don't know if you're reading your paper before breakfast, at lunch or after a good Sunday dinner. What I do know is that if you saw some of the things that have happened to youngsters who met the wrong people on the internet, you wouldn't keep your food down for long. How many of your own kids, or the children you know and care for, have mobile phones, tablets or laptops? Do you know what they do? Who they meet and what they share? The truth is you probably don't.

I have spent most of my adult life in law enforcement, combating terrorism in Northern Ireland, fighting organised crime in the National Crime Squad and, most recently, child abuse as the chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), a role I resigned from in October 2010 in protest over the Government's plans to merge it within the National Crime Agency. I didn't believe it understood the issues then and, as cuts are being imposed on the very organisations fighting to protect the young and vulnerable, I am convinced some children will fall through the net and suffer terrible consequences.

The chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, warned that cuts in police budgets were likely to result in less work being done in schools educating children about avoiding abuse online. I wonder how the few at Ceop felt when they heard the Home Office response to his warning? The Home Office claimed that "Ceop had said it could maintain its current staffing levels within its current budget". It was a case of deliberately missing the point. There will be more work with responsibility for missing children, fewer people, the ongoing leakage of precious experienced personnel and a year-on-year reduction in its budget, but we are told Ceop can manage. I keep looking for the White Rabbit and Alice, because we must have gone through the looking glass.

Did you notice Internet Safety Day last week? Blink and you would have missed it. Internet safety should be something we not only encourage but demand. Every day should be a safer internet day. So what did we get? Consolidated advice. In the congested internet safety market, this is something we need. But is it easy to access, understand and use? Does it challenge those in the child protection partnerships that include the police, those involved in social care, education and industry, and the Government to do more? To do better? Ten years of task forces and talking shops should have produced more. The sad truth is some people become so seduced by technology and partnership with others that they forget that the primary focus in child protection is children.

If we have learnt anything, it is surely that to be a truly effective partner in tackling child abuse, you must be prepared to be challenged. When the partnership itself becomes the goal, everyone is vulnerable. That is why independent assessment by bodies such as the umbrella group the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) are crucially important. We need to reflect on what was promised, when, what has been delivered, and what difference it's made.

Perhaps Internet Safety Day should be a time to reflect on the difference those people in UKCCIS make. People such as John Carr, a computer safety expert who is prepared to challenge the things he knows are wrong. Recently he spoke out about BlackBerry's refusal to filter the web on their phones, resulting in children being at risk of exposure to pornography and other adult content. I hope it has made a difference. A BlackBerry is the handset of choice for so many young people: what it does, or doesn't do, matters.

Sometimes the hero of the day, however, can come from the most unexpected of places. I will never forget how in the midst of a tough and very public debate with Facebook on the Click CEOP button (which allows kids to report a suspected abuser with a single click), Joanna Shields, at the time the newly appointed CEO of Facebook UK, came to the table to talk. She moved us all forward by engaging, not simply as the chief executive of a powerful company, but as a parent determined to do what was best for children. When people in the industry really get it, and have the influence and authority to point their company in the right direction, they can make a huge difference: at Facebook this was an app for parents and children, and improved privacy controls.

Then there are the unsung heroes in the police service and child protection community. We should put ourselves in their shoes and imagine for a moment what their day is like, the horror they will witness and the political hypocrisy they will have bear. In the bowels of the Ceop building people are looking at the unwatchable and listening to the unspeakable. To borrow a quote from Winston Churchill, never have so many owed so much to so few. If the public only knew what they see and what they do for our children.

Matt Bishop, a Microsoft executive, a Ceop board member and one of the strongest child-protection advocates in this field, told me that standing still in terms of technology is the equivalent of falling behind. He knew what he was talking about. Standing still is taking so long to agree how we meet everyone's agenda that, by the time we dilute the position enough to satisfy everyone's "sensitivities", we fail. We fail because technology and the young people who use it will not wait for us. By the time we get there, we look ridiculous, because our message, tactics and methods are much less credible.

Those in the field need to be empowered to do more than stand still: they have to move ahead of the game, develop strategies that match the new mobile markets, and support while challenging developers. Technology at its best is easy to access, understand and use, and the advice must be the same.

I am sure you have worked out by now that I am not a fan of the Government's policy on Ceop, or its impact thus far on the world of child protection. But the Government has the power and the responsibility, and we have to be able to trust it; so even as I resigned in protest at what it was doing, I was pleased that the Home Secretary was making public statements about investing in and building on Ceop's work.

The question now is where is that promised investment? Is Theresa May going to make that investment and move forward? Or was the commitment just the right thing to say, at a difficult time, to mask the fact that she doesn't understand the issues, won't listen and is standing still, simply hoping for the best?

Jim Gamble is chief executive of Ineqe Safe and Secure

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Assessor

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Sustainability Assessor...

Year 5 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Cover Supervisor for School in Bradford

£50 - £70 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: School Cla...

Supply Teacher - Chelmsford

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We urgently require Primar...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: second languages, the secret of love and is it all right to call someone stupid?

John Rentoul
High and mighty: Edinburgh Castle and city skyline  

i Editor's Letter: We're coming to Edinburgh

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?