The organizations that later formed the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety (CHIS) had been working together on a collaborative project on child sex abuse since the 1980s(1). They started to engage with the internet from a child safety perspective in 1996(2). CHIS was officially born in 1999 following a decision by the founding agencies to give a specific and on-going focus to their work in this area.
CHIS today has a web site - www.chis.org.uk - and 11 members: Action for Children(3), Barnardos, Beatbullying, British Association for Fostering and Adoption, Children England(4) Children's Society, ECPAT UK, Kidscape, NCB, NSPCC(5) and Stop It Now.
Every CHIS member is a charity. Some members are very large organizations, substantial household names dating back to the mid-19th century. Others are more recently established specialist groups. Representatives of CHIS member bodies are frequently found on Government advisory and expert bodies, both national and international, contributing to public policy development, regularly commenting in both the general media and in professional journals.
CHIS member organizations have a comprehensive range of expertise in child protection, child welfare and child development. They work extensively with individual children, young people and their families. A number run residential schools or similar facilities, some provide therapeutic or other forms of intervention and support or are engaged in arranging adoption and fostering placements. Several member organizations have wide ranging knowledge of how sex offenders prey on children, how children are trafficked, how sex tourism operates, how bullying can manifest itself, the harm it can do and what can be done to counter or recover from it. Every member organization of CHIS has professional standing within the world of child safety.
In all of its activities and contributions to policy making CHIS reflects the concrete experience of its member organizations, drawing on their extensive knowledge and day to day engagement with children and young people, wherever possible and appropriate allowing children and young people to speak directly for themselves.
The principal focus of CHIS's work is the internet. With digital media convergence gathering pace, in addition to conventional computers, CHIS also takes an interest in the increasing number of devices(6) which can connect to the internet, as well as the different types of services that are available online. Social networking sites represent a number of challenges. Internet enabled games consoles are popular across all age ranges. The emergence of wireless connectivity has also hugely multiplied the points of access to the internet. Other new technologies are constantly emerging, each bringing their own novel twists and turns.
CHIS tends to work at a strategic level pressing for improvements in public policy. Typically CHIS interfaces with the internet industry, Government, Parliamentarians, the media, law enforcement and the wide range of stakeholders engaged in the work of child protection. There is currently a great deal of focus on the work of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and the implementation of the recommendations in the Byron Report.
CHIS has found that when the children's organizations speak with one voice on a policy question they can normally achieve a great deal more than when they act alone or in isolation. One of our early successes was to push for the creation of the Home Secretary's Internet Task for Child Safety, recently replaced by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS). The Task Force, and now UKCCIS, recognise that self-regulation can offer a swifter and more efficient route to resolving online child safety concerns. It brings together all of the key players from Government, industry, law enforcement and the child advocacy community.
A second major achievement for CHIS was the creation of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP), although here the internet industry and others joined with us to call for the creation of such a specialist law enforcement unit..
Each member organization continues with its own projects and activities entirely independently but through CHIS the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Because of the focus on public policy, in the run up to each General Election CHIS produces a "Digital Manifesto". This sets out the principal unresolved issues of concern at that moment. These become the pillars of CHIS's work over the ensuing five year period and a benchmark against which we can measure progress between General Elections.
Of course in between General Elections, without fail, new problems or concerns crop up. Within CHIS the same method is used to develop a new policy as is used to develop the Manifesto. Typically a draft position paper will be prepared and circulated for comment. When an agreed version emerges it goes out with the names and logos on it of everyone who has signed up.
CHIS is pro technology
CHIS is a big fan of the internet and what it can do in a positive way for children and young people. Children and young people can use the internet to claim or assert their rights in ways which have not been possible previously. The internet can also be an important source of support and help to some young people and children, perhaps often in situations where no other sources are readily available to them.
CHIS recognises and embraces the technology as a wonderful and enriching aid to education, tremendous source of fun and games as well as being a great way of staying in touch with friends and family. CHIS calls for safe and equal access to the internet for all children and young people everywhere.
Internationally CHIS works principally through the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online (eNACSO) an EU funded project administered by Save the Children Denmark, and currently chaired by the NSPCC. At the moment eNACSO has members drawn from nineteen EU Member States, and has associate members drawn from countries outside the EU (see www.enacso.eu). eNACSO is growing. CHIS is a very strong supporter. In many ways eNACSO replicates at a European level what CHIS does at a UK level.
Finance and resources
CHIS has no subscription, no bank account and no money. It never has had. If CHIS wants to do something either it costs nearly nothing or the charities fund it between themselves on an ad hoc basis.
1. Indeed they still meet for that purpose: NSPCC, Barnardos, Action for Children (formerly NCH), Children's Society, NCB and Children England (formerly NCVCCO). Childline was also part of it but they later merged with and are now represented by the NSPCC.
2. Immediately following the 1st World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children where the internet's potential as a hazard to children was debated following some early police actions against child pornographers in the UK, France and the USA and various indications that it was being used by organized groups of paedophiles to swap information on and arrange holidays in countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka.
3. Formerly NCH
4. Formerly NCVCCO
5. ChildLine, the UK's principal child helpline service, was a founding member of CHIS. It still exists but it has merged into the NSPCC otherwise CHIS would have twelve members.
6. Internet enabled mobile phones are perhaps the best known of these.