Child Protection: Campaigning with dignity


This article is about safeguarding and contains information that every parent campaigner should know. Warning, may involve triggers related to sexual abuse.

When it comes to campaigning for Changing Places or Space to change toilets, a large number of campaigners are parents of disabled adults and children. Children and adults vary in age range and mental capacity, some having severe learning difficulties.

In this article we refer to disabled children but equally this applies to disabled adults with reduced mental capacity regarding consent to the use of their image.

Important information can be found on:

NSPCC image use in child protection

Images in campaigning

Parents will generally want to share images of their disabled children (or send them to other parents or organisations ) so that they can be used on posters, in booklets, attached to Tweets, made public on Facebook or printed in letters / e-mails for example.

Many images involve a child laying on a toilet floor, others show a child in distress or semi clothed/wearing only incontinence pads from the waist down.

Losing control over images of disabled adults and children.

Every potential campaigner, organisation or business who provides or collects an image of a child/adult, needs to be aware of how to protect their dignity and privacy and safeguard them from abuse.

The potential for misuse of images can be reduced if organisations are aware of the potential risks and dangers and put appropriate measures in place. [NSPCC:2018]

This is particularly important when each campaigner is acting as an individual (there is no ‘single campaign’, rather a shared desire to raise awareness and encourage the provision of more accessible toilets).

We have a safeguarding policy for project participants and a code of conduct which you can view here.

What every parent needs to consider.

  • First and foremost the privacy and dignity of every child should come before any campaign gains.

Every disabled adult and child, as a human person, has a right to dignity and privacy.  Whilst it can be argued that laying on a toilet floor is undignified, this doesn’t mean the person should be open to further enduring indignity (and loss of privacy) through having their photograph made public on the Internet for example.

If your child is too old to be placed on a baby changing unit, they are probably to old to be shown in a photo wearing a nappy/pad/pull ups.

  • If your child had full awareness / understanding about the Internet and who would see their image (friends, teachers, families, random members of the public, paedophiles etc) would they agree to you posting that particular picture?

An image example that was shared across the world via social media involved a 14 year old girl with severe learning difficulties, laying on a public toilet floor in her incontinence pads. There are probably no 14 year olds without an impairment who would consent to such images going public – so consider age appropriateness when thinking about dignity, privacy and consent.

  • Question who is asking for this photo – how well do you know them?

Just because a person says ‘please share your image for the campaign’ doesn’t mean they are genuine. Anyone can create a Facebook or Twitter profile and appear to be an understanding parent in the same position.

  • Who is using the image of your child?

Remember, once you share a photo with any individual campaigner (privately or via social media), you have no control over what this person will do with it – or what the next recipient it is passed on to will do with it.

Did you know, we are often sent images of disabled children, not from their parents but from other campaigners and told to ‘use the images as we see fit’. You probably don’t know I have them nor what I intend to do with them. *Note we immediately delete these images.

  • Never share your child’s image with a business, charity or organisation unless you see a copy of their child protection and safeguarding policy.

Use of your child’s image in sexual ways or to locate them in person

You have no control over how the photo you provide to people will be used (it might even be used for a different disability campaign, in any country). You have no control over who will store the photo, if the image will be altered, in what format it will be kept, how secure it is, and how long it will stay there.

It could turn up in the hands of a paedophile or be shared amongst a secret Facebook group of people who will find them sexually stimulating. No parent wants their child’s image to be used in this way?

By posting your photo, where your child may have their face showing, and saying ‘please have a picture of [x]’ you have given your name and that of your child.

A sexual offender or ‘admirer’ [someone who has a sexual preference for a person with specific impairment or medical issue such as being a continence pad user] now knows enough to start following links to seek more information or imagery.

They can visit your profile and see anything you have made public, find out where you might live, perhaps match up your children’s image with anything from a local newspaper/charity/school or blog. Very soon they could pinpoint you to an actual school, know your routines, start befriending you, maybe meeting in person several months down the line as a ‘similar parent’.  They have your whole profile and possibly that of your family and friends (whom they can also contact and befriend).

Gradually they get ever closer to their prize – your child. Then one day you meet up, they offer to sit with your child whilst you pop to the loo. Very slowly your have, unknowingly, compromised the safety of your child … all because of a photo you shared a few years ago on the Internet.

Does this really happen – yes it does. A man contacted me and several other disabled men and women. First the conversation was about what type of mobility equipment/wheelchairs, medical equipment did they use – as if asking for peer advice. A few conversations later the topic turns to asking about the best incontinence pads to use … then asking for pictures of people in their wheelchairs, asking to be friends, liking photos and asking to meet in person. The person found that seeing a particular type of impaired person, in a wheelchair, knowing they were incontinent was sexually stimulating … and they quickly deleted their profile and resurfaced under another name when the disabled community felt that something wasn’t quite right. They wanted images and a visual viagra. They would start to bully and harass people if they did not get their fix. This happens. Be aware and be safe.

  • Once an image is ‘loose’ on the Internet, you will have no control over where it goes or who keeps it or for how long – and will not be able to ‘get it back or delete it permanently.
  • Schools, local authority staff, local authority foster carers, care workers have to work within strict policies about photographing children for posting on the Internet or elsewhere. Images of children have to be ‘appropriately clothed’ and pictures of children in a toilet would be a safeguarding concern and investigated.  As a parent, you will know that you have to consent in writing for every photo a school uses and be informed where it will be shared and how it will be stored. A school has to classify it as personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998.

If a school teacher, care worker, foster carer can’t share images of children who are not appropriately clothed (i.e. in knickers/pants/pads) then you might want to think twice about sharing and the implications this can have.

  • If you are invited to make a photo as ‘shocking as possible’, consider that ‘shocking’ is likely to impact the dignity and privacy of your child.

Be aware, be safe, protect your child’s image.