How safe is your school or organisation’s online environment? Tips for improving online safety byte by byte

On 1 July 2022, the new Child Safe Standards (CSS) come into force, along with new Ministerial Order 1359 (MO 1359). Both instruments have an increased focus on child safety in the online environment. This article covers our top tips for schools and organisations to ensure child safe online environments to mitigate risks to children and young people.

Increased focus on online safety in child safety regulation

The new CSS, which apply to all organisations in Victoria providing services or facilities for children, contain specific obligations for organisations to:

  • consider online environments in addition to physical environments; and
  • identify and mitigate risks in these environments without compromising a child or young person’s right to privacy, access to information, social connections and learning opportunities.

For schools, a major change in the new MO 1359, which replaces Ministerial Order 870 and implements the CSS, is the updated definition of “school environment” to include additional detail regarding online and virtual school environments. Online and virtual school environments made available or authorised by a school governing authority for use by a child or student are captured by MO 1359 and now specifically include software applications, collaboration tools, and online services in addition to email and intranet systems. This additional detail reflects the increased focus of the new CSS on child safety in virtual environments, and increases obligations on schools to maintain safe online environments.

Earlier this year, the Online Safety Act 2021 (Cth) came into effect. This law includes a world first scheme to take down cyber abuse and protect children and adults from online bullying. See our earlier article discussing these changes here.

What are the risks?

According to the eSafety Commissioner, some of the key risks for children and young people in online environments include:

  • image-based abuse;
  • cyberbullying;
  • online scams and identity theft;
  • fake news and misinformation;
  • sending nudes and sexting;
  • unwanted or unsafe contact; and
  • sexual extortion.

1 in 5 Australian young people reported being socially excluded, threatened or abused online.

1 in 5 Australian young people admitted behaving in a negative way to a peer online — such as calling them names, deliberately excluding them, or spreading lies or rumours.

Top tips for ensuring online safety

We recommend that schools and organisations follow these tips to ensure their online environments are safe for children and young people:

  1. Understand your risks by undertaking a thorough risk assessment of your online platforms.
  2. Set clear expectations of behaviour with staff members, students, parents and/or children and young people associated with your organisation (as applicable).
  3. Provide continuous, tailored child safety training to staff members.
  4. Provide training or information to students and/or children and young people associated with your organisation (as applicable).
  5. Run regular child safety officer (or equivalent) meetings to ensure information regarding red flags and child safety concerns is shared.
  6. Ensure your school or organisation is able to monitor and record online activity on any platform that it uses.
  7. Comply with reporting requirements and remind staff members of their reporting obligations.
  8. Provide guidance to parents of students or children and young people associated with your organisation on creating a child safe online environment.
  9. Evaluate, learn and improve your school or organisation’s online platforms, practices and procedures.
  10. Attend Moores’ free e-safety webinar. The webinar will discuss these online risks and tips in greater detail, using case studies for practical application. Register for the webinar here.

How we can help

If you would like more information about what the new CSS and MO 1359 mean for your organisation or school or what steps you can take to protect children and young people from online harm, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Moores’ e-safety webinar in 2022 will reflect on:

  • recent regulatory changes to understand how they address identified risks to children in online and virtual environments; and
  • key lessons and tips which arose out of Safer Internet Day in February, promoted by the e-Safety Commissioner and privacy Commissioners around Australia.

You can access the recording to our 2021 Safer Internet Day webinar on Social Media and Child Safety here.

Contact us

Please contact us for more detailed and tailored help.

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