Live More new Guides on the way! Get notified by signing up to CAST's newsletter..

Contributed by

Barnardo's help protect vulnerable children and young people across the UK. The children’s services team build up relationships of trust with children and young people.

Use this Guide if you are thinking about trying a new method of communication. It focuses on WhatsApp but could be relevant to other tools.

Steps to successfully allowing workers and young people to communicate with WhatsApp

You need to know how the young people you support want to communicate. You also need to know what both they and the workers need the communication to achieve. For example, do they need to share links to information? How much privacy do they need?

Start with your workers' knowledge of what young people need, based on how the services they deliver are going. Then talk to the young people about any problems you uncover and what they think might solve them. You may decide to use particular techniques to help you do this.

Barnardo's 4U service had an issue with the 1-to-1 support they provided. Young people often missed appointments and contacting them by phone or email didn’t help. The young people often asked the workers to contact them on social media platforms instead.

They decided to explore the issue carefully. They ran journey mapping workshops with a selection of teams that were interested in solving the problem. This helped them work out how a new communication method would need to fit into their wider services.

Then they ran co-creation sessions with young people to make sure they had understood what they needed and help them be part of the solution.

Co-design is one type of co-creation. Read Catalyst’s guide to running a co-design workshop.

Communicating with young people on social media can introduce risks, especially for 1 to 1 conversations. It’s best to choose one new contact method at a time and run a pilot to test whether it works.

Choosing the right method for your organisation will depend on things you uncovered in Step 1.

Barnardo's chose to test WhatsApp because:

  • Young people had suggested it as something they use a lot

  • It allows workers to share links and media to help young people

  • It has “send and read” receipts which would allow our workers and young people to see what has been read

  • It is a service that is encrypted, providing some security for data exchanged.

  • People think of it as a safe and trusted place to have closed conversations

  • It is easy to get started with and doesn’t need much training

  • It’s low/no cost

  • Although it has some GDPR risks, the benefits outweighed those risks.

All tools have risks. You should do a risk assessment. Then you should decide which risks can be handled within your existing policies and which risks need extra things putting in place.

Staff from Barnardo's children’s service team worked with their safeguarding and data protection specialists to deal with 3 main risk areas.

1. Safeguarding risks associated with providing one to one support for young people. They handled these through existing policies.

2. Risks of data being “leaked”. They added the following measures:

  • Workers must use Barnardo's issue phones only

  • Workers would use the privacy setting so that WhatsApp message text doesn’t show on a locked screen, and make sure young people knew about this too

  • Workers would make sure young people knew how to lock their phone with a passcode

  • The project would only include 1-to-1 communication not group communication

  • Workers and young people would agree a safe word, in case anyone was watching them use their phone and messages needed to change topic.

  • Workers would delete messages once a week when they updated their case files

3. Deciding whether to communicate with under 16’s using WhatsApp. It is a service for over 16’s but it doesn’t actually check age so lots of under 16’s wanted to use it.

They created a risk assessment workers could use with each individual under 16 year old to decide whether to go ahead.

Work out what success will look like for communication using Whatsapp in your organisation. Then choose some workers, and some young people and provide it as one option for those services.

When you run the pilot test keep all your usual communication channels open too.

Barnardo's chose 3 services, in certain regions to take part in their pilot. Workers in the pilot decided with each young person whether WhatsApp was right for them.

When you are running your test you need to make sure that you have thought about what the people involved will need so they can take part. You might need guides for your workers or to create simplified information about Whatsapp for young people. You can create these in any way that you are familiar with.

Barnardo's created:

  • A welcome pack - explaining the whole service their workers provide, not just the role of the WhatsApp app

  • A five bullet point explanation of consent

  • A digital service agreement that young people could easily sign

  • Guides and risk assessment templates for workers

Barnardo's had access to several tools and a digital team to help them do this. They made these resources using Google Forms, Google Sheets and Zapier. They built our welcome pack as web pages. But you could make them any way that suited you.

You need to consider:

  • if enough of the young people you are helping are able to use it

  • if your workers can manage it as well as other methods to help people who can’t use it

  • if you found any unexpected limitations

  • If you had any problems with data security or if your measures worked

Barnardo’s decided:

  • It was effective for working with some young people

  • They needed to make sure they didn’t leave out people who had phones that could not run WhatsApp or had no phone or data.

  • They will never use it with some groups of young people. This is because phone numbers are visible - and that is not appropriate for young people who have previously been exploited.

  • It was irritating that on some phones pasting links into WhatsApp didn’t work

  • It still had some grey areas in relation to GDPR (as at 2020).

Further information