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Future Summit SocialWeb - SocialWork

by C. Bretl, Stiftung Digitale Chancen
Published on: 24.04.14

Professionals discussed the influence of social work on the online safety of children and youths at the final conference of the European project SocialWeb - SocialWork in Berlin

About one hundred international stakeholders from the area of children and youth work have attended the final conference of the European project SocialWeb - SocialWork on April 8th 2014 in Berlin. The project consortium - partner organisations from Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Poland and Spain - presented the project’s findings and discussed the results with the high-ranking members of the international Advisory Board of SocialWeb - SocialWork: John Carr (UK), Dr. Renata Geležiniene (Lithuania Republic Special pedagogue association, Lithuania), Loreta Krizinauskiene (Association LIA / Langas I ateiti, Lithuania), Andreas Link (jugendschutz.net, Germany) and Tink Palmer (The Marie Collins Foundation, UK). In the afternoon, all participants had the opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas in the framework of a future summit on the impact of social work on the online safety of children and youths.

Panel articipants

What kind of influence does the internet have on the identity building and personality development of young people nowadays? Digital media are an essential part in youths’ daily life, as data reveals. In 2013, the average number of Internet users in Europe was 77% of the population aged 16 to 74 years, the age group of 16 to 24-year-olds is with 96% almost entirely online (Eurostat 2013). And especially for the 9 - to 16-year-old children and adolescents, for example, the EU Kids Online survey found that "Internet use is fully integrated into the daily lives of the children," because 93% of this age group are at least once a week online and 60% every or almost every day (Livingstone/Haddon et al. 2011, 5).

Unfortunately, vulnerable children and youths e.g. minors belonging to high-risk groups such as socially disadvantaged families are literally falling through the net. Research like the EU Kids Online Studies show the need to consider this target group and their specific needs when measures for child and youth protection in the media are developed (Livingstone/Haddon et al., 2011).

This is where the EU project SocialWeb - SocialWork steps in: socially and educationally disadvantaged children and youths are less likely to get guidance in their family or through their school education, if they go to school at all. To reach them, new areas of work with children have come into focus. And, as proven by the evaluation results of the project, social youth work can contribute to the Internet safety of these young people.

The final conference of SocialWeb - SocialWork invited professionals working with children and youths and other interested parties to discuss on the basis of the project's findings how the influence of social work can be used to ensure the safety of children and youths at risk on the Internet.

Introductory, the project coordinator Stiftung Digitale Chancen explained the unique project concept consisting of two equal pillars: the provision of a training campaign for professionals working with children and youths at risk on online safety and in parallel the evaluation of the training effects on their work. The subsequent presentation of the project’s findings was nourished by the expertise of the project’s Advisory Board members. After a two year phase of piloting and evaluating, the results show that the approach to train professionals working with children and youths in media literacy and online safety is successful. The training participants in the five European partner countries deepened their knowledge of media usage behaviour and understanding of the online fascination of their young clientele and developed it further. Their awareness for risks which children and youths are exposed to on the internet has clearly been increased through the training campaign. Six months after the training the awareness of the professionals working with children and youths was heightened by around 20% for all mentioned online risks. Plus they are taken into confidence by their young clientele when the need is felt to discuss online problems. "Talking to each other and listen what children and youths have to say - that is what is important," says Gerhard Seiler, managing director of Stiftung Digitale Chancen, project coordinator of SocialWeb - SocialWork.

The interactive working session in the afternoon designed according to the Appreciative Inquiry Approach allowed all participants to get directly into contact with each other and exchange experiences and opinions beyond national and professional borders. Basing on the fact that the Internet is the platform where identity building and personality development of young people takes place and that social work has a positive influence to guide children and youths at risk safely through this process, this approach encourages positive thinking and focuses on identifying what is working well, analysing why it is working well and then discussing how to achieve more of it. In four working phases - appreciating the best of what is, envisioning what might be, engaging in dialogue about what should be and innovating what will be - the conference participants took a look into the future and tried to identify the existing strengths, potentials and the positive aspects of social work on that issue.

Workshop Activity

The presentation of the group work highlighted the significance of the African saying "It takes a whole village to raise a child" and its transferability on the subject of the conference. "Nowadays, it must be a global village that takes part in a child’s education," concluded Jutta Croll, moderator and board member of the Stiftung Digitale Chancen. "We need companies to already consider safety for children and youths while developing their internet services, as well as the support of the government for setting a frame." "Parents and other guardians need support for media education within the family, while social youth workers are especially needed when the safety of children and youths at risk is concerned", adds Virginia Pareja from the Spanish partner organisation Fundación Esplai.

The report on the final findings of the project evaluation as well as the material and online learning units developed during the training campaign in six European languages will be available from summer 2014 on.

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