ThinkUKnow volunteers thanked as program back in full swing

This National Volunteer Week (16-22 May), the Australian Federal Police thanks ThinkUKnow program volunteers for going above and beyond the call of duty to keep children safe online.

ThinkUKnow was established in 2009 and is Australia’s first and only nationally-delivered, law enforcement-led online child safety program, supporting the critical work of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).

The program is a partnership between the AFP, Commonwealth Bank, Datacom and Microsoft Australia. Presentations are delivered by employees of all organisations in collaboration with members of state and territory police agencies and Neighbourhood Watch Australasia.

The program relies on a team of 1,025 volunteers to deliver educational presentations across the country to children, parents, carers and teachers about staying safe online.

AFP Commander for the ACCCE Hilda Sirec thanked the volunteers for their dedication and commitment to child safety.

“Our volunteers are the beating heart of the ThinkUKnow program. They are all members of ThinkUKnow partner organisations, who volunteer their time above and beyond their regular jobs in policing, finance, technology and community services. These men and women give up their own time to present practical child safety education at schools, scout halls, sports clubs, and PTA meetings across the country,” Commander Sirec said.

Microsoft Partner Technology Strategist Philip Meyer, a ThinkUKnow volunteer of 12 years, said his own daughter motivates him to keep spreading online safety messages.

“For me it’s personal because, as a parent, I know how challenging it can be to navigate the ever-growing, ever-changing online world. I volunteer to help parents make it safer online for their children,” Mr Meyer said.

“Often parents will come up straight after a presentation and say it really helped them. A parent told me they’d attended a presentation years earlier and had taken onboard our guidance, tips and suggested actions – and it worked. Having that parent tell me “you saved my child”, has been the highlight of my time volunteering.”

AFP Commander Hilda Sirec said that while the COVID-19 pandemic had restricted the number of face-to-face ThinkUKnow presentations over the past two years, the program was now back in full swing.

“The past two years have seen unprecedented times for many, and we’ve seen that in the ThinkUKnow program. During lockdowns we’ve focused our efforts on communicating online, with our volunteers able to deliver 25 presentations to 1,460 attendees in the 2021-22 financial year,” Commander Sirec said.

“With the return to schools, along with sporting and other community groups, the program is now right back into full swing in 2022.”

General Manager of Innovation and Growth Practices at Datacom, Greg Furlong, said his background in IT meant he felt a responsibility to educate parents and teachers to better understand the benefits and risks of technology.

“If I can prevent even one child from experiencing the ugly side of online bullying or falling victim to grooming, then all the presentations I do are worth it. The program understands that technology is so integral to our lives these days and the feedback from parents and teachers really shows that they want to know more, they want to equip themselves with the best tools to help the children in their lives,” Mr Furlong said.

Volunteer Brendan Tink from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) said being a father of two young children, it was important to understand the online world better.

“After seeing the problem and consequences up close it was great to be involved in a preventative education program like ThinkUKnow that equips parents the knowledge, strategies and awareness of what dangers lurk online,” Mr Tink said.

“The link up with ThinkUknow was a choice driven by my technology skills base, comfort in presenting and desire to understand the issues/challenges that children face online. The CBA’s corporate volunteering program made it very easy to enter into the program.

“The most rewarding element of this program is the discussion post presentation with parents, and seeing the transformation from fear to empowerment. Parents leaving with a strategy they want to try, or a pathway to get further help, either way it is a positive outcome.”

Volunteer Tanya Smith said seeing parents and teachers willing to take the time to attend a presentation and share their experiences was highly rewarding.

“Hearing how families have coped with a situation, their willingness to share their stories so others can learn from their experiences really helps drive home that it’s a community effort, and I’m really pleased that I can help support this community to keep their kids safe,” Ms Smith said.

The AFP-led ThinkUKnow program continuously reviews resources, ensuring continued engagement, education and awareness raising around online child sexual exploitation.

ThinkUKnow presentations can be booked by any school, organisation, community group, sporting club or other group. To book a presentation or for advice and support visit www.ThinkUKnow.org.au.

Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety.

A podcast launched last year by the ACCCE ‘Closing The Net’ is working to change that, showcasing that knowledge is power and that our only chance to help prevent this issue is if we bring a ‘whole-of-community’ response.

The podcast series offers valuable tips and advice on how to keep kids safe online. Listen to the Closing the Net podcast on your favourite streaming platform.

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