Digital safeguarding procedure
Find out how to follow our digital safeguarding policy
Last updated: 4 October 2023
This procedure explains how to stay safe online and follow our digital safeguarding policy.
How to contact the HQ safeguarding team
If you have a safeguarding concern, report it.
Get in touch during office hours on +44(0)207 834 6242 ext. 3037 or email [email protected].
For out of hours emergencies, call +44(0)7508 032997 (5-10pm Monday to Friday; 9am-10pm Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays).
If we don’t answer your call straight away or it’s outside these hours, please send us an email explaining your concern. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Please don’t text the out-of-hours number as we can’t see these messages
All of us in guiding are using the online space more and more. It's exciting, but it can have some challenges. That’s why you need to follow our digital safeguarding policy and code of conduct when connecting and communicating online.
On this page you can find:
- Safeguarding in the digital space
- Using social media
- Messaging with young members
- What do I do in challenging situations
Can’t find what you’re looking for?
- Have a look at our page on safe online guiding to find out more about using digital devices in your meetings and running safe virtual meetings.
- If you want to find out how we manage our official Girlguiding social media accounts check out our social media community guidelines page.
Safeguarding in the digital space
What do I need to do?
You need to follow the same safeguarding principles as you would normally. Just because an allegation, concern or disclosure is about something online doesn’t mean it’s any less serious or important. If you’re not sure whether something is a concern, it’s always better to report it.
What makes digital safeguarding different?
Some types of harm happen only, or mostly, online. It’s important you know the different types of online harm, so you’re able to spot concerns about young members and other volunteers. You can find a list of these in our policy. Remember, you don’t have to be certain about a concern before you get in touch with our HQ safeguarding team.
Digital safeguarding also means thinking about the information you’re sharing online about yourself and others. Be aware of online scams and make sure you know who can see what you’re sharing or doing online.
When sharing or collecting personal data about young members, make sure only parents and carers can see it. You might also want to think about whether your messages are encrypted, especially when sharing something like bank details. Encryption makes messages more secure and less likely someone can get access to the information who shouldn’t. WhatsApp and Facebook messenger use encryption, but Facebook groups don’t.
Using social media
Social media is a great tool for keeping in touch with other members, welcoming new volunteers, and letting people know about all the great stuff we do at Girlguiding.
We want our presence on social media to reflect our values – to be caring, challenging, empowering, inclusive, inspiring and above all, fun!
When interacting with our official social media accounts you need to follow our community guidelines.
You can find out our rules on messaging with young members on social media, including WhatsApp, further down this page.
Your personal social media
As a volunteer, you represent Girlguiding. So be aware of what you say and how you say it when you’re online. Think about whether your posts are appropriate, in keeping with our values and expectations, and follow our code of conduct.
Remember that anything you post on social media can easily be shared, even if your account is set to private. And you mustn’t add young members under 18 or allow them to follow you on your personal social media accounts, unless you already know them outside of Girlguiding. You can decide whether to add or follow adult volunteers or parents or carers on your personal accounts.
If your behaviour online isn’t appropriate, we may look at it under our managing concerns about adult volunteers policy.
Sharing photos and videos on social media
Sharing photos, videos and other images on your guiding social media is a great way to show what Girlguiding is all about. But always check you have the right permissions before posting. Parents and carers decide permissions when they complete the join us form and the new starter form. They can update them whenever they want by logging into GO.
- You can only share images of young members with unit-only permission in closed groups for parents and carers.
- If a young member has marketing permission, you can share their images on public-facing social media.
- Our photo permission options don’t cover sharing images on volunteers’ personal social media. This means you mustn’t post images of young members taken in your volunteering role on your personal Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.
Find out more about handling photos and videos safely.
Setting up social media for your unit or area
If you’re setting up an account or page which represents Girlguiding, like a Facebook group for your unit or a Twitter for your district, you need to follow some basic principles to make sure you’re being a great ambassador for Girlguiding:
- Follow our policies and procedures.
- Follow the platform’s community guidelines and terms and conditions, including on age restrictions.
- Check our guidance on how to use our brand.
- Include a short description of what the account is for and who it represents. For example, ‘This is the Twitter account for the Narnia district where you can hear all about the fun we have! The views expressed here are those of the Narnia district team’.
- Make sure you use the most appropriate privacy settings for the account. For example, if it’s a group to promote guiding opportunities in the area, you’ll want to make sure members of the public can see the page. But if you use it to keep parents and carers up to date on unit meeting activities and events, you’ll need to make sure the account is private.
On WhatsApp you can set up a broadcast list which keeps phone numbers private. To find out more read WhatsApp’s advice on setting up broadcast lists. This is a useful option if you want to update lots of people at once, but you don’t want everyone to be able to see each other’s phone numbers.
If you’re setting up a group on Facebook or something similar on another platform, make sure to follow our managing information procedure on contacting volunteers, parents and carers by letting everyone know that:
- They can choose whether to join the group or not. You can explain the benefits, but you can’t add them without their consent.
- Other members of the group may be able to see their contact details or other information. They should check the privacy and security settings of their account before joining.
- They can leave the group at any time.
- They shouldn’t share personal data if they don’t want others in the group to see it.
If it’s a group for parents and carers, make sure to only include those listed as a contact on GO. If the parent or carer requests another family member is added to the group, make sure there’s a practical reason for this. For example, a young member’s grandma might need to be in the group if she’s in charge of meeting drop-offs and pick-ups.
Make sure it’s a closed or private group, so that only you or other group moderators can add people. Make sure you know who everyone is, and remove people when they shouldn’t have access anymore, for example if a girl or volunteer leaves the unit.
And don’t forget, if there’re any parents or carers not in the group, you’ll need to communicate with them separately.
Running social media accounts
There’s lots to think about when it comes to running social media accounts day to day.
Talk with your unit or area team and decide:
- Who will have access to the account? You should make sure more than one person can access it in case something goes wrong, and so that you can share responsibility and support each other.
- Who will post, and what will you post about? Are there any emotive topics you’ll avoid?
- Will you use social media to engage in anything political? If there’s an election coming up, you’ll need to take extra care as there are regulations about campaigning and political activities by charities.
- How often will you post, or check the account for comments and messages?
- Who will delete posts, and when?
- How will you deal with comments from other users? Have a look at our community guidelines for interacting with the official Girlguiding social media. You might want to follow the same guidelines or make your own.
What to do if things go wrong
Sometimes things go wrong. You should escalate any issues to your commissioner as soon as possible.
The best thing you can do is decide how you’ll handle any issues before they happen. And make sure you’re familiar with how to report problems on the social media platform you’re using.
- Complaints and criticism. How would you normally handle this offline? Can you do it in the same way? Don’t forget, you can pass complaints on to your commissioner or direct people to our HQ complaints team.
- Abusive messages. Sending abusive messages online is unacceptable behaviour, and receiving these messages can be distressing and overwhelming. If anyone involved in Girlguiding is sending abusive messages, get in touch with our HQ complaints and compliance team. If it’s impacting your, or someone else’s, mental health contact our HQ safeguarding team. Consider blocking the person sending the messages or asking another volunteer to look after the account temporarily.
- Hacking. Do you have another way to contact people to let them know if someone has hacked into your account? You don’t want anyone to click on a link that downloads a virus, pay money, or share personal information with a stranger.
- Fake accounts or impersonation. Do you have a way to check that the person is who they say they are? Could you check with a parent or carer in another way before you add them to a private group?
You might want to develop some behaviour guidelines which you ask people to follow. Have a look at our community guidelines for some ideas.
After an incident, you should talk to your unit or area team about whether the steps you took were the right ones. Would you do anything different if it happens again?
Messaging with young members
Digital communication with groups of young members is allowed, as long as you follow certain rules.
- Use an age-appropriate platform. For example, you mustn’t use WhatsApp or Slack to communicate with young members under the age of 16.
- Follow the specific rules for each age group below.
You shouldn’t message 1-to-1 with young members on messaging platforms or during virtual meetings. If a girl contacts you privately, reply to let them know that you’ve received their message but copy someone else into the conversation. If it’s an emergency, it’s more important to respond to the young person than to avoid 1-to-1 contact. You can read more about this in the frequently asked questions section at the bottom of this page.
You must never contact members under the age of 12 directly, even if their parent or carer agrees to this. The new starter form or join us enquiry will provide the contact details for the parent or carer. All communication must go through them.
There may be times when it’s appropriate to contact girls in this age group directly. You must only do this with their parent or carer’s permission. Some parents and carers may prefer all communication to go through them. The new starter form or join us enquiry will provide the contact details for the parent or carer.
If their parent or carer agrees, you can include the young member or young volunteer in messages you send to a larger group. This could be an email to all volunteers in the unit or to young members organising a residential. But if you need to message a young member or young volunteer individually, you must copy in their parent or carer.
Members you might need to contact in this age range include:
- Young members running girl-led residentials
- Members involved in working groups and research groups
- Young external volunteers
- Rainbow and Brownie helpers
Make sure you check the age limits on social media before using these to contact young members.
Young members aged 14 and over can log in to GO themselves and must add their own contact details. A parent or carer must still fill out their new starter form.
You don’t need parent or carer permission to communicate directly with young members aged 14-17. Just make sure to avoid any 1-to-1 contact. Have another volunteer copied into the communication, or only communicate to groups.
Members in this age range include:
- Young leaders
- Young external volunteers
- Peer educators
Check the age limits on social media before using it to contact young members.
What do I do if...
I have a concern about a young member’s or volunteer’s behaviour, or what they may have been exposed to online?
If you have any concerns, contact our HQ safeguarding team for advice and support. You don’t have to be sure about the concern or think it’s serious to get in touch.
If a volunteer’s behaviour online isn’t in line with our code of conduct, this may impact on their membership. Depending on the concern, our HQ safeguarding team or complaints and compliance team may look into it.
A volunteer’s posts on social media make me concerned about their safety or wellbeing.
If you know the volunteer personally you might feel comfortable sending them a message to make sure they’re okay or to offer your support. If you’re not comfortable doing this or it isn’t appropriate, you should contact their commissioner to raise your concerns. Or you can get in touch with our HQ safeguarding team.
If you think they may be at an immediate risk of harm, contact the emergency services. And then let our HQ safeguarding team know you’ve done this. Read more about how and when to report concerns in our safeguarding procedure.
If you don’t know the volunteer personally, you should contact our HQ safeguarding team to report your concerns. It may help us to identify them if you can send a screenshot of the social media posts and as much information about the volunteer as possible.
A volunteer contacts me privately and I’m worried about their safety or wellbeing.
Respond to the volunteer, even if you’re not sure what to say. It’s important they don’t feel ignored or alone. If it’s appropriate, ask if you can speak to their commissioner or the HQ safeguarding team on their behalf.
If you believe they may be at an immediate risk of harm, contact the emergency services. And then let our HQ safeguarding team know you’ve done this. Read more about how and when to report concerns in our safeguarding procedure.
I’m a young member with a concern about myself or someone else.
Speak to an adult you trust if you can. This could be your parent or carer, teacher or your Girlguiding leader. They can help you find the right information and support. You can also email [email protected] directly for advice. But please copy in another trusted adult, like your parent or carer, or your Girlguiding leader.
If you don’t feel able to talk to anyone you know about your concern, you can contact a specialist organisation, like Childline. They may be able to support you or give you the information you’re looking for. We’ve listed some organisations on the right hand side of this webpage.
A young member shares that someone has posted photos of them online.
I have a concern about someone being bullied online.
It’s important to take concerns about bullying seriously, whether the behaviour is taking place in person or online. Our anti-bullying and harassment procedure explains how you should respond to different types of bullying.
I may have caused or seen a data breach or other data protection issue online.
A young member contacts me privately.
If a young member contacts you privately on social media, by email, phone or text you should always reply to let them know you’ve received their message. If possible, you should copy someone else into your reply and explain that private contact is not allowed between volunteers and young members. If the conversation is ongoing, move to another platform where it’s possible to copy someone else in.
If it’s an emergency, for example the young member is at an immediate risk of harm or is making a disclosure, it’s more important to respond to the emergency than to avoid 1-to-1 contact. If it’s possible and appropriate, try to include someone else in the conversation.
You might be able to download or screenshot the conversation afterwards and share it with another volunteer, if that’s appropriate.
If a young member repeatedly contacts volunteers privately you may need to raise this with their parent or carer. Speak to your commissioner for advice if you’re not sure how to handle this conversation. If you have any safeguarding concerns about the young member, contact our HQ safeguarding team.
I receive a phone call from a young member.
Answer the phone to find out why they’re calling. It could be an emergency so it’s important not to ignore the call. If they just wanted to let you know they’re running late, thank them for letting you know and end the call. If they want to have a longer conversation about something, rearrange the call so another volunteer can also take part. Or arrange to meet in person with another volunteer after a unit meeting.
If it’s an emergency, it’s more important to respond to this than to avoid 1-to-1 communication.
A young member tries to add me or follow me on social media.
Let the young person know you’re not allowed to accept their request. You could speak to them in person at a unit meeting to let them know. Or send them a message with another volunteer copied in.
If they keep trying to add or follow you, you may need to raise this with their parent or carer. Speak to your commissioner for advice if you’re not sure how to handle this conversation. If you have any safeguarding concerns about the young member, contact our HQ safeguarding team.
A young member I have an existing relationship with outside of Girlguiding follows me on social media.
If you already have a relationship with a young member outside of Girlguiding, for example a niece, granddaughter or family friend, we don’t expect you to stop following each other on social media. But it’s still a good idea to check the age restrictions for the platform, and for their parent or carer to know you’re connected on social media. You must not allow other young members to add or follow you on social media.