Updated: Aug 13, 2020
As early years leaders, we know how important it is to stay in touch with our work teams during these difficult times. In our wellbeing bundle, we highlighted the importance of remaining connected and the impact that has on the wellbeing of teams and individuals. With the rise in online communication, it seems a natural step to use platforms such as WhatsApp to remain in contact. These platforms allow us real time communication with groups of people at any one time, meaning information can be disseminated quickly and easily. Whilst the debate around the decline of real conversation can be saved for another time, these platforms are a rising trend, allowing 24 hours contact….with the odd emoji thrown in!
Lets face it, apps on our devices are much more accessible than emails or staff room memos, especially during this period, where settings are closed or on reduced opening hours. Therefore it makes sense to lose the bureaucracy and send a little WhatsApp message where needed; replies with a GIF get extra points! It’s the simplicity of the App that makes it so appealing, sharing a pic or info quickly and easily, with the 2 blue ticks showing us it has been received and seen.
However, when used by early years providers, where is the line being drawn relating to child protection, data protection, managing personal and work accounts or evidencing paper trails for example? These are challenges that early years leaders should be considering with regards to using the WhatsApp platform for this kind of communication.
Firstly, it is against WhatsApp terms and conditions to use the platform for business. There is a business edition of WhatsApp, however, this is intended for businesses to communicate with their customers, not for private discussions within a business. Secondly, WhatsApp is not GDPR compliant. Data is transferred to countries around the globe and this is forbidden under GDPR, as UK data must be processed in the EU. The privacy of information required in terms of GDPR is essentially different to WhatsApp and this can cause huge challenges for early years providers. For example, the setting cannot apply information rights, such as the right of access or the right to be forgotten with staff personal accounts on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and any data shared on WhatsApp can be shared with Facebook. There is no audit trail and should you ever need to, you cannot access content. For example, in HR investigations, complaints, or legal action, there is no lawful way in which you can gain access to any information stored on these apps. Early years providers must be aware of their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in accordance with The Statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage.
Early years settings also need to consider the impact such communication may have on safeguarding and child protection. Using communication tools such as WhatsApp for staff to communicate with parents increases exposure of safeguarding risks such as cyber bullying, grooming and radicalisation. It would be highly risky for staff to converse with parents in this way or perhaps through other social media channels, such as Facebook or Twitter. Various statutory guidance documents are available to support settings with understanding how to reduce these risks such as Keeping children safe in education and Working together to Safeguard Children.
Early years leaders will be aware of their duty under data protection law, to ensure that the personal data it hold is safe, secure and protected from unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage. Using a platform such as WhatsApp in order to communicate both internally or externally not only puts this duty at risk but puts the children we care for at risk also.
So what can early years leaders do to overcome these challenges?
1. Updating and embedding your settings Data Protection Policy and Communication Policy, across your team is essential. Your policy should be fit for purpose and be explicit in terms of social media communications Making sure that all employees fully understand their role in the policy and sharing this with parents will ensure that everyone knows their responsibilities.
2. Finding a secure and compliant way to communicate with parents can be extremely useful. Nursery management software, such as Famly, have an integrated communication system which is GDPR compliant. This allows messages to be sent to staff and parents, in a safe and secure way. 3. Integrating the subject of social media communications into staff training will ensure that the topic is always on the forefront of everyone’s mind. This topic can be woven through safeguarding training, communication training or discussed in staff meetings. Clear communication with parents, children and staff will always be a priority in early years settings, so lets work to ensure that the methods we use to communicate are as safe as they can be to protect our children.