26 May 2022

'ThinkUKnow' what your children are up to online?

| James Coleman
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A girl operates her laptop.

Established in 2009, ‘ThinkUKnow’ is Australia’s first and only online child safety program led by law enforcement. Photo: Annie Spratt.

Keeping children out of harm’s way in the real world can be a full-time job for parents. But it can be even more demanding to protect them from the dark alleyways of the internet.

A education program run by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) aims to help.

For National Volunteer Week (16 to 22 May), AFP took the time to thank the 1025 volunteers who make up ‘ThinkUKnow’.

Established in 2009, Australia’s first and only online child safety program is led by law enforcement and delivers educational presentations across the country to children, parents, carers and teachers.

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As connected devices become more commonplace, the good, the bad, and the ugly of the cyber world are becoming more accessible to little fingers. Parents and teachers might be struggling to keep up.

From June 2019 to July 2020, 21,000 cases of child exploitation were reported to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).

On the flipside, ACCCE research in 2020 revealed only about 50 per cent of parents talked to their children about online safety.

According to the AFP, children and young people are groomed online to produce child sexual exploitation material overseas and locally. This material is sought by offenders from Australia and around the world.

ThinkUKnow program in class.

The AFP conducts the ThinkUKnow program. Photo: Brendan Tinks.

The AFP admits there’s no ‘quick fix’ when it comes to online safety or protecting children from harm, and it’s important to use a range of prevention strategies.

A complete approach includes using technology settings and having open conversations with children and young people about what they do online.

A partnership between the AFP, Commonwealth Bank, Datacom and Microsoft Australia, ThinkUKnow hopes to foster these conversations and encourage online caution in children.

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Presentations are delivered by employees of all organisations in collaboration with members of state and territory police agencies and Neighbourhood Watch Australasia.

A member of the Microsoft branch in Barton, Tanya Smith said she jumped at the chance in her first few months when a call was put out for ThinkUKnow volunteers.

“While I don’t have kids of my own, I have seen some of the struggles kids and their families face in this online world,” she said. “And being a country kid at heart, I wanted to do something to help keep the community safe.”

ThinkUKnow volunteer Tanya Smith.

ThinkUKnow volunteer Tanya Smith works at the Canberra Microsoft branch. Photo: Tanya Smith.

Dealing with information technology, Tanya knows first-hand the online damage done – from scams to bullying.

“Anything we can do to help people keep themselves and particularly their children safe is a good thing,” she said.

“Every session I hope to be able to help a single person, whether it be stopping them from doing something or reacting in a supportive way.”

Tanya said the highlight of the presentations were the conversations at the end.

“Be it hearing about how a family copes with something that has happened, or the general chat among parents and teachers, I’m always amazed. The parents and carers are always willing to share with each other and learn from each other, not just from the presenters.”

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AFP Commander for the ACCCE, Hilda Sirec, thanked the volunteers for their dedication and commitment to child safety.

“They are all members of ThinkUKnow partner organisations, who volunteer their time above and beyond their regular jobs in policing, finance, technology and community services,” she said.

“These men and women give up their own time to present practical child safety education at schools, scout halls, sports clubs, and PTA meetings across the country.”

ThinkUKnow presentations can be booked free of charge by any school, organisation, community group, sporting club or other group. Book a presentation or find advice and support online.

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