Children’s charities link up for chatbot service to support victims of abuse

Missing People and the NSPCC’s Childline service have collaborated to ramp up their digital support to victims of sexual or criminal exploitation and abuse.

The anonymous and free chatbot service is called ‘Is This OK?’ and has been developed with technical support from Reason Digital and with funding from BBC Children in Need, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists' (WCIT) Charity and the Postcode Lottery.

The chatbot enables victims to seek help and combat fears about disclosing problems. It then signposts local support available.

It has been developed with young people’s support, including around the design and how it is promoted.

Missing People said: "Crucially, we ensured that confidentiality, anonymity, and privacy were central to the new platform.

"We removed any tracking (including capturing of IP addresses), built in quick 'hide' options for the chatbot, and updated messaging throughout the platform to assure young people that they are in a safe space."

The launch of Is This OK? follows a six-month pilot in Waltham Forest, London, and Bradford. This found it was accessed 1,746 times and 344 live chats were initiated by young people.

Missing People is proud to be leading on the development of this ground-breaking project which connects young people with skilled professionals – safely and in total confidence,” said Missing People chief executive Jo Youle.

“Is This OK? provides an accessible and much needed form of digital support for young people who may feel they have nowhere else to turn.

“Working in partnership with Childline means that we are able to share expertise to deliver the best possible service for young people.”

The chat bot is available in Waltham Forest, Bradford and Stoke and will be rolled out in around six to eight other areas in the UK over the next year “with a view to becoming a national service”, said Missing People.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless, added: “No young person should ever have to live with abuse – and at Childline, we know how important it is to give them a safe space to speak out and seek confidential help if they are concerned or confused. Is This OK offers a new option for those who may currently feel they have nowhere to turn.”

Chatbots are being increasingly developed by charities to boost the support they can offer.

They can also cut service delivery costs. Evaluation of Cybersmile Foundation's anti-bullying chatbot service last year found that it cut costs by 97%.

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