What are the risks involved?

‘Although the online world can seem daunting and full of potential pitfalls, young people are already there. So how do we overcome our own fears to create a safe online space that allows us to reach and support more young people?’ Youth Access, 2017

Remote therapy brings additional risks which need to be considered before beginning this type of work. While practitioners can't remove risks all together it is important to communicate these to young people, along with measures you are taking to address them, as much as possible. Its worth carrying out a risk assessment with every young person as you usually would, asking additional questions to reflect the specifics of the situation. We have listed some of the things you may wish to consider here:   

  • When working with individuals whose vulnerability is related to their mental health or social isolation, it’s advisable to assess their suitability for remote support. Check with each young person what they would like to do and if it feels safe and ethical for them to be supported this way - and reflect with your supervisor and more experienced colleagues. You can refer to the BACP’s Ethical Framework to check whether you’re able to meet the principles and values it sets out.  
  • Age of the young person and their consent to engage in remote support (or the consent of their parent / guardian). 
  • Do you have the equipment needed to carry out this work, with appropriate virus protections and software? 
  • Who can you contact for technical support when you need it? 
  • What will you do if your equipment or technology fails or breaks down? 
  • What will you do if the young person doesn’t answer, show up to a session, or disappears during the call? 
  • Do you have an appropriate space to work from? Does it provide the privacy needed to work without being overheard or interrupted? Are your seated comfortably, with adequate lighting?
  • Can the young person access a confidential space for the duration of the call, where they will feel comfortable and able to speak without risk of interruption or being overheard?
  • Does the young person have speech, language or communication difficulties that may prevent them from being able to engage with the call?
  • Which factors can you incorporate into your online working agreement with a young person to mitigate risk? E.g.: 
    • Is there a trusted adult in the young persons life? 
    • Are they happy for you to phone them if they end they end the call in distress or get cut off from the internet 
    • Is there a safe word they can use if their confidential space has been compromised? (for example, a comment on the weather). 

Like any one-to-one contact with a young person, consider if they are benefiting from the service they are receiving, and if the benefits outweigh the risk. Document everything you are doing (ideally using an encrypted USB, or secure, GDPR compliant cloud-based drive linked to your work email, rather than your personal storage drives) - for example through online working consent forms, session notes, supervision notes, or online practice guidelines, and do not delete any correspondence with young people. In addition, plan to continually reflect and reassess if an online method is meeting the young person’s needs in a safe and containing way through supervision and peer support.

Key resources

Next section: How do we safeguard children and young people when working remotely?