Which online tools should we use?  

There’s been an explosion of blogs, guides and reviews online about the respective merits of different online platforms and tools for remote working, and we won’t add to the mix here. Besides, Youth Access members know better than anyone that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all' for services supporting young people.  

Choosing which tool to use is as much about what your staff team feel comfortable using as it is about what young people need, and it’s likely you’ll need a patchwork of methods, based on the specific needs in your community.

 

Overview: which platforms are safe? 

Video: Video is strongly recommended for practitioners not qualified for online therapy. It’s the closest to face-to-face working and also helps ensure the young person you’re supporting is on their own. The BACP encourages practitioners to choose video platforms that feel most comfortable and in fitting with your ‘style’, though warns against Skype as “not...ideal for confidential therapeutic work.”  

Telephone: Telephone support has long been used as an alternative to face-to-face work. (It's also a good option for young people unable to receive remote support at home, and for whom internet connection might be a problem. 

Email: Emails are best limited to factual, practical information and not therapeutic conversations, using secure, encrypted email accounts such as Protonmail, Hushmail, SecureMail or Frama. 

Text / WhatsApp messaging: While text, WhatsApp and other messaging apps are useful for organising session times and sharing fact-based information, there is disagreement over whether such methods are appropriate for therapeutic work. See How do we protect digital security and privacy? later in this toolkit for more detail. 

This guide is summarised from guidance from the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, the Early Intervention Foundation, and the Association for Counselling and Therapy Online.

 

I think that an organisation should where possible use a variety of platforms for young people to engage with, making the choice based on equality of access rather than what suits the professional best. This means that those that do not want to or are not able to use video can use another medium.  - Caroline Scott, Participation Worker, YPAS

There are a few things to consider when selecting your platforms or tools for remote therapy. To begin with: 

Consider what you have in place already: Are you supporting young people remotely already, and can you adapt and expand these services? What equipment and programmes do you already own?  

Staff competencies: What do staff feel comfortable using, and what tools will require minimum training? What are similar organisations using? As The Association for Counselling and Therapy Online (ACTO) points out, if you don’t understand how it works, [it’s] best not to choose that software.

Meet young people where they’re at: Each young person will have preferences about how to be supported, based on what they feel comfortable with, what they have access to and their home context. Ask them how they’d like to be supported, and check-in regularly to see if you need to change tools or adapt your use. 

Budget: What can you realistically afford to spend? 

The following considerations will help you narrow down your options further and ensure that your chosen platforms and tools are appropriate for therapeutic use with young people. 


Security, privacy and encryption

You can't guarantee absolute security but there are many things that will help your set-up be ‘good enough’.” - BACP, 2020

Any platform or tool you choose must meet the security, privacy and encryption standards necessary for your practice. As the Association for Counselling and Therapy Online (ACTO) points out, no online platform is totally secure and, again, there is no ‘one size fits all’ - it’s all about how you use them 

What do security, privacy and encryption mean for individual digital platforms? 

Security: Put simply, a secure platform is one that can prevent uninvited guests from accessing your sessions or data – and that can run reliably, without crashing lots.  

Privacy: This refers to whether the platforms and software you use will share data - both yours and young people’s - with others and whether they are covered by GDPR in the UK and EU. You should also consider whether analytics or tracking software collects and shares sensitive information about young people that may impact them now or in the future – for example with insurance or other financial companies. Let the young people you work with know that you can’t ensure the platform won’t share sensitive information - "intrusion" by tech providers is to some degree unavoidable - and inform them of their data rights under ICO rules, which is your duty as a ‘data controller’. 

Encryption: This refers to the scrambling of data, both when it’s being sent across the internet and while it’s being stored, so that it can't be read by prying eyes. ACTO points out that for counselling or therapy via video conferencing, it’s likely you’ll want data to be accessible to only you and the person on the call and to disappear after the session, without being saved.

It’s important to note that while free services are often the most familiar to young people and practitioners, they don’t necessarily have the privacy and other safeguards needed for sending sensitive personal or health-related information. Periodic online research is recommended to find any reported privacy or security breaches and incidents. 

Recommended reading

 

BACP good practice safeguards 

  • Use providers and platforms that meet privacy and quality standards for healthcare – especially when working with personally sensitive information. 
  • Check the provider’s contractual terms and conditions carefully to make sure they’re suitable for the service being provided. 
  • Offer more secure alternatives of communication where possible. 
  • Stay up to date with new developments to enhance the privacy, security and reliability of your chosen method of communication. 

Insurance

Check that your insurance policy for professional liability includes online, digital and telephone support and find out whether you need additional insurance to cover cyber-attacks. If in doubt, ask your insurer. (BACP, 2019)


Age limits

It is crucial that practitioners consider the age limits of the platforms they wish to use with young people. These limits are not just to do with safeguarding young people while engaging with them on particular platforms but also relate to consent around data processing and GDPRInformation about age restrictions for different digital services can be found at NSPCC- and O2-backed Net Aware. 

It’s important to note, however, that if we followed age restrictions guidelines exclusively there would be a lot of children and young people who would not be able to receive support while working remotely. This is where additional measures such as parental consent and organisational risk assessments can mitigate risk, despite these age restrictions. It is the practitioner’s responsibility to assess this (and record how this was assessed) and communicate these terms to the young person and their parent/guardian. See How do we safeguard children and young people when working remotely? in this toolkit for more information on risk management.


Interactivity and key functions

Consider whether platforms have all the functions you need for sessions and/or can be integrated with other digital tools. For group sessions, you may also want to consider whether the platform allows you to: 

  • Break off into smaller groups
  • Mute and unmute participants
  • Share your screen
  • Run polls or Q&A sessions
  • Use a virtual whiteboard
  • Annotate the screen
  • Remove disruptive or uninvited people from the group 

Accessibility

It’s important to consider the different accessibility needs of the young people you’re working with, and whether they’ll be able to access and use the platform with ease. Some questions you might want to consider are:

  • How easy is it to use, or learn how to use?
  • How can it be accessed? Does it require computer, phone, tablet? Does it need Wi-Fi or data to access? Is there a dial-in function that would use up minutes? Do you need to download an app to use it? Some online platforms, such as Meetup Call, let you call people so it doesn’t use their minutes.
  • Does it cater to different abilities and learning needs? Some functions to consider could be closed captioning, subtitles, keyboard accessibility, screen reader support, video relaying / audio description.
  • Does it allow participants to use non-verbal signalling, such as emojis, hand clap / hands up?  

Finding a tool that ticks all the boxes is likely impossible, especially when time and resources are tight and needs are ever-changing. So instead of looking for perfect, focus on working out what the most important functions are for your organisation’s needs, and the needs of the young people with whom you’re working,  and see what’s out there that’s good, safe and accessible enough. To help you find what’s out there check out: 

You can find more tools that you can use to enhance the interactivity of your sessions on our Covid-19 resource hub. We have also published a short guide with 10 tips for engaging with young people using Zoom.

Next section: How do we protect digital security and privacy?