Paedophiles could be targeting children during the coronavirus lockdown in order to track them down once the rules are lifted, a safeguarding leader has warned.
With many pupils being educated online during the lockdown, Emily Konstantas, chief executive of The Safeguarding Alliance, said predators “will be well aware” of the high increase in children spending time online.
She told the House of Commons’ education committee that paedophiles could seek to “form relationships” online before attempting to “meet up with children” once the lockdown has been lifted.
Konstantas told MPs on Tuesday: “In response to COVID-19, many pupils will be currently educated online, and with that brings a whole host of safeguarding concerns.
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“It’s a well known fact that with the high increase of pupils online, potential predators will be well aware of that and also accessing online facilities in order to potentially speak to children.”
She went on: “My other concern is while lockdown is in place, those threats are possibly not immediate threats. But when it starts to be lifted, relationships could potentially have been formed with those pupils on an online basis.
“And then essentially predators could start meeting up with children subsequent to lockdown being lifted."
The government has acknowledged the risks associated with children spending more time online in its latest education guidance.
It reads: “With children spending more time online to do schoolwork and other activities, there could be an additional risk. This is why it is more important than ever that children, parents and carers know how to stay safe online.
“It is important that parents and carers talk to their children about online safety, show an interest in what they are doing online and ask what they like and dislike about the apps and services they use.
“Discuss age appropriate ‘ground rules’ like how much time they spend online doing different things and what games and apps are appropriate to use.
“Also consider setting up and reviewing age appropriate parental controls. Setting parental controls can be a quick and effective tool to help protect children online.”
In its COVID-19 recovery strategy published on Monday, the government said it is hoping to introduce a phased return of some primary school year groups from 1 June at the earliest.
Number 10 wants reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils to return in smaller class sizes.
In secondary schools and colleges, it also wants year 10 and year 12 pupils – who are facing GCSEs and A-levels in the next academic year – to begin returning.