With Ofcom figures showing that 19 per cent of three- and four-year-olds and 43 per cent of five- to- seven-year-olds own tablets, which the majority use to access online content, the NCA says it wants to encourage adults to start a dialogue about online safety with young children.
This is the first time the agency is engaging with younger children in a bid to protect them online in light of rocketing numbers of child sexual abuse referrals globally.
The NCA’s new resource, to be used by practitioners, teachers and parents with four- to-seven-year-olds, is based upon a three-episode animation series called Jessie & Friends. It is designed to teach children to recognise manipulative strategies in online chat like those typically used by offenders to groom children.
It is hoped the resource will provide protective education to young children before they begin to encounter such risks online, making them less likely to become victims and/or be targeted by high-risk offenders.
According to NCA, the threat to children has grown more than ever. It says its investigators are seeing a ‘very disturbing change in offender behaviour, with increasing contact abuse of pre-verbal and very young children’.
It warns that ‘there are many parents, whose children are victims, who had no idea they were developing relationships online and were vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.’
Director of the NCA, Rob Jones, said, ‘As the threat continues to rise it is vital to focus on preventing offending.
‘We are already asking “how did it get this bad?” In ten years’ time we must be able to look back and see that we stopped it from getting worse.
‘Arresting offenders is not the only answer to the problem.
‘While we are pursuing offenders, we are using the insight we gain from their behaviour to produce educational products we can use across the system, to create resilience in children.
‘We need parents, carers and teachers to discuss this sensitive issue in a positive way, and Jessie & Friends will help them to do this.
‘In addition, there needs to be zero tolerance to the presence of child sexual abuse material online. Industry needs to design out preventable offending through the use of technology to reduce the prevalence of material so it is not easy to access it.’