Dorothy Com, or Dot Com to her friends, is the character at the forefront of a new online safety resource created by children for children. Dot Com Digital is the product of a unique partnership between Essex Police, Dot Com Children’s Foundation and technology company DataArt a gold affiliate partner of Microsoft.
It aims to educate children to help prevent them becoming victims of crime online through digital threats including online grooming, radicalisation, exploitation and bullying. It also aims to prevent young people being recruited by criminals to commit offences and helps identify children who may be at risk of offline threats.
Dot Com Digital is based on the tried and tested Dot Com education programme which has been used in primary schools for more than 15 years. The programme helps children learn how to manage risks and empowers them to ask for help if they are frightened or worried. Since it began, the Dot Com programme has been delivered by teachers to nearly a million children across England and Wales.
Developed with the ideas of a group of school children from Essex, Dot Com Digital aims to speak to children aged four to 11 in their own language using cartoon friend Dot Com and an online journal which children complete after each lesson. Each child has their own login to their digital journal and cutting-edge technology tools will help flag up those who might need more help and support. Children can also use the Dot Com character to ask the teacher for a ‘Dot Com Minute’ to discuss any worries or concerns they might have.
Features of the resource
- Digital story experiences and cartoons to enrich the experience for children
- Each child will have their own login and online journal account
- The children will create their own individual avatars for the journal
- Tried and tested education programmes that will give children the skills to understand bullying, online and offline grooming, and when to confidently ask for help
Benefits of the resource
- Develop children’s emotional vocabulary and emphasise that it is safe and appropriate to speak up when they are uncomfortable or scared
- Teach children to recognise their own body’s danger signs and how to ask for help
- Help children to recognise bullying behaviour and deal with it
- Help children to understand grooming behaviour and the pattern that it follows
- Help children understand how social media and online can be used for crime
- Support children in understanding and manage their feelings such as anger
In 2018, the then Chief Constable of Essex, Stephen Kavanagh, in partnership with BT initiated a ‘hothouse event’ with a broad agenda of identifying innovative ways to tackle the national digital threat. There was a desire to build collaborative projects with not only statutory partners, but commercial companies too. It was recognised that no single agency can tackle current online threats, and that it was essential to move beyond traditional practices and to evolve at a rate more in line with developing technology being used to target children for criminal activity.
The partnership is now led by the current Chief Constable of Essex, BJ Harrington and supported by Chief Constable Carl Foulkes, who holds a Digital Policing Portfolio for the National Police Chief Council (NPCC). A working group has been formed and Microsoft along with affiliate partners DataArt and Dot Com Digital will be creating the online resource as part of their corporate social responsibility strategies. It will be hosted by Microsoft free of charge on the secure Azure platform.
The Dot Com learning programme was created by Sharon Doughty a former news presenter and crime reporter who worked at the BBC, Sky News and ITV with her husband Neil Evans, a former Metropolitan Police Officer. The programme was endorsed by the Secretary of State for Education in 2010 and has been supported by the police nationally since 2002. It was first created in partnership with the Metropolitan Police as a way to communicate safety messages to children and to give pupils a way to speak up about issues which frightened them. Sharon Doughty was a victim of violence and abuse in her childhood and wanted to use her own journalistic skills to help protect children and prevent them being harmed.
The pilot will be launched in June 2019 to six to twelve schools across the UK. This will include 45 year six pupils from Holy Cross School in Thurrock, who attended a workshop in June 2018 hosted by Microsoft at the company headquarters in Paddington where initial research for the digital programme began.
Technology consultancy DataArt, which designs custom software solutions, is building the Dot Com Digital online journal, based on research and workshops conducted with children by Essex Police and the Dot Com Children’s Foundation. Microsoft is contributing free hosting of the product on the Azure cloud.
Fully funded by the partnership, the resource will be launched on 24 October 2019 as a nationally available product, free for schools to use. Training will also be available at no cost.