As the world becomes more connected through social media, it’s important to remember the potential dangers associated with sharing personal information online. In particular, parents and caregivers must be aware of the risks involved in sharing back-to-school photos of their children. While it may seem innocent to post a picture of a child in their new school uniform or standing in front of their school, these photos can end up in the hands of child sex offenders.

According to Australian Federal Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Hilda Sirec, even innocent photos can be used by predators to groom children. “Everything that relates to your location or even the logo on your school uniform, unfortunately can be used by these predators out there to try and groom children, and also groom parents and carers out there, to make themselves familiar to them in their lives,” Sirec said. “Unfortunately, all of that is by simply sharing images in a public setting on social media.”

Sirec’s warning is not unfounded. Child sex offenders have been known to collect innocent photos of children in school uniforms as part of their collections of child abuse material. These collections can stretch to “terabytes” and can include thousands of images.

It’s crucial that parents and caregivers understand the potential dangers of sharing back-to-school photos on social media. In addition to being used by predators to groom children, these photos can also be used to track a child’s location. A predator who knows a child’s school and daily routine can use that information to stalk them or even kidnap them.

To protect children, parents and caregivers should be mindful of the information they share online. This includes not only back-to-school photos but also information about a child’s daily routine, location, and interests. Parents should also educate their children on the dangers of predators and how to report suspicious behaviour.

If a child is contacted by someone who seems to be a predator, they should know to report it to someone they trust. This could be a teacher, a parent, or a caregiver. It’s important that children feel comfortable reporting suspicious behaviour and that they have a supportive network around them.

If there is imminent danger, the incident should be reported to the police. For less urgent cases, the website (the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation) can provide assistance to families.

It’s also important for those who work with children, such as those in Out of Home Care (OOHC), to be aware of the risks associated with taking and sharing photos of children. Photos and videos should only be taken for the purpose of Life Story Work and should be deleted from personal phones once forwarded to the relevant agency or department. These images should never be shared on social media.

Parents, caregivers, and those who work with children must be aware of the potential dangers associated with sharing personal information online. Back-to-school photos may seem innocent, but they can be used by predators to groom children and track their location. By being mindful of the information shared online and educating children on how to report suspicious behaviour, we can help keep children safe from predators.