'We in the Archdiocese wish to play our part in supporting parents in their role by striving to create safe and spiritually enriching environments for children and seek opportunities within the context of God’s love and his teachings to build their confidence.'

—Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, foreword to Protecting God’s Children resource

Children’s Week, running from Saturday 23 October to Sunday 31 October 2021, is a national celebration recognising the talents, skills, achievements and rights of children, and offering an opportunity to consider the social conditions that affect the lives and future of our children. The theme this year is ‘Children have the right to choose their friends and safely connect with others, drawn from Article 15 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Children and young people are at the heart of our parishes in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, and Children’s Week is an opportunity to reflect on how this is expressed in our communities—how we support our children and young people, ensuring that they feel safe and able to grow in their faith.

To celebrate Children’s Week, the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne is highlighting the issue of online safety with parents, carers, parish leaders, staff and volunteers, and with the children in our parishes. Our hope is that we might support efforts to keep children safe as, increasingly, they use digital technology to connect to activities in their parish, and with their peers and family.

Information technology is now used in virtually every home in Australia. In 2016–17, 97 per cent of households with children younger than 15 years had access to the internet, and the average number of devices per household with children under 15 years was 7.8. Ninety-eight per cent of young people aged 15–17 years were online—the highest proportion of internet users in any age group, along with people aged 25–34. This group also spent more time online than any other group, spending an average of 18 hours per week online in 2014–15 (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], Household use of information technology, 2016–17, 2018; ABS, Household use of information technology, 2014–15, 2016).

The recent COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have strengthened and consolidated these trends, with lockdowns meaning that children are spending more time at home and also online. As parents face the challenges of juggling their children’s remote learning with their own work—and as we recognise the importance of giving children in lockdown recreational time online—this year’s theme of ‘safety’ prompts us to consider how we might best keep our children safe in the digital environment. The role of technology in staying connected has never been more important now that many of us are physically isolated from family members, friends, colleagues and support networks. As children stay connected by using computers and phones to access social media, play games with friends, watch videos, download popular apps, and create and share content, they may be unaware of the safety risks. While the internet is a great way for children to socialise, learn, work, play and be entertained, the adults in their lives have an important role to play in supporting and guiding children to avoid risks and have a safer online experience.

Threats to children’s online safety may include:

  • cyber-bullying
  • non-consensual sharing of images
  • exposure to explicit imagery
  • grooming by an online predator
  • chatting with strangers
  • aggressive online marketing
  • fraud
  • identity theft.

Parents and carers, and those who work with children in our parishes, can help children and young people to:

  • take control of their safety
  • be confident that they know what to look out for
  • know what to do if they do not feel safe
  • know what to do when unwanted contact occurs, or when online communication is unpleasant or upsetting
  • gain the skills and knowledge to identify and avoid risks.

Online safety awareness can assist in nurturing children and young people to be responsible digital citizens and to engage in online activities safely.

How can I learn more about online safety?

A range of practical resources produced by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner will assist parents, carers and those ministering in our parishes to navigate the challenges of online safety with children, and to help children feel safe connecting with friends. These resources include:

Other resources designed to engage children and youth, and to encourage greater online-safety awareness, include:

With a particular focus on the parish context, the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne has also produced a number of useful resources on many aspects of child protection, including advice on online safety:

How do I report my concerns with online communication and content?

Should parents, carers, clergy, volunteers, staff or children find any material online that they believe to be prohibited, inappropriate and/or harmful, they should contact:

Any concerns or allegations of abuse involving clergy, Church employees or Church volunteers in relation to children and young people (including online abuse) should also be reported to the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne’s Professional Standards Unit (on 03 9926 5621).