Last reviewed 20 December 2021

Whilst there is no statutory ban on mobile phones in early years settings, childcare providers are required to have a safeguarding policy which covers their use. Many safeguarding incidents are now connected to mobile phones or other online devices, so it is essential that settings have clear policies and procedures in place to ensure they are used safely and appropriately.

Safeguarding concerns

Inappropriate use of mobile phones includes instances where phone calls or messages take practitioners' attention away from the safe supervision of young children, or where they are used to take images of children to support abusive practice.

The use of mobile phones in early years settings has been questioned in recent years following the serious case review into the Vanessa George child abuse case at a Plymouth nursery, which involved the illegal distribution of indecent images of children. Vanessa George was a nursery worker who abused the children in her care and took images on her phone camera to send to friends on Facebook.

Following this case, there have been calls to ban mobile phones in nurseries to prevent this ever happening again. However, the Tickell review of the early years foundation stage, which refers to the Vanessa George case, did not recommend this. Dame Clare Tickell recognised that banning mobile phones could create difficulties for some early years settings, such as when children are taken on outings, or where a setting is based in a hall without phone facilities. She stated that safeguarding policies must set out clearly how mobile phones should or should not be used in settings, reflecting the circumstances of individual settings, and ensuring that their usage is properly monitored.

Guidance on mobile phones in the early years

The safeguarding and welfare requirements of the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework also clearly state that a setting’s safeguarding policy and procedures must include an explanation of the action to be taken in the event of an allegation being made against a member of staff, and cover the use of mobile phones and cameras in the setting. The framework says that safeguarding policies should be in line with the guidance and procedures of the relevant local safeguarding partners (LSP), so settings should check if their area has a particular stance on mobile phones and follow this advice.

The EYFS also recommends that early years providers refer to the guidance Safeguarding children and protecting professionals in early years settings: online safety considerations which is published by the UK Council for Internet Safety. This includes two documents that support early years managers and staff to consider their practice and to take steps to safeguard both children and adults online.

Staff use and personal phones

Mobile phones and smart technology are part of everyday life for most children, parents and staff members, so early years providers must clearly communicate their policy on the appropriate use of any devices in their setting. Mobile phone use should be covered in staff training during the induction process and policies should be reviewed regularly in the light of changing technologies. Any mobile phone policy must address the use of personal phones at work and could include the following points.

  • Personal mobile phones should be either turned off or on silent and not accessed during working hours.

  • Mobile phones can only be used on a designated break and this must be away from the children.

  • Mobile phones should be stored safely in staff lockers or another designated area at all times during working hours.

  • No personal device is allowed to be connected to the nursery Wi-Fi at any time.

  • During outings staff can only use mobile phones belonging to the nursery.

  • Photographs must not be taken of the children on any personal phones or any other personal information storage device. Only nursery-owned devices can be used to take photographs or videos.

  • Staff must not use personal mobile phones to communicate with parents/carers.

  • Staff who bring personal mobile phones into the provision must ensure that there is no inappropriate or illegal content on them.

  • The early years setting is not responsible for the loss, damage or theft of any personal mobile device.

  • All members of staff should remain vigilant and report any concerns to the setting’s manager or designated safeguarding lead (DSL). Parents and staff should be informed of the complaints procedure and staff made aware of the whistleblowing procedure.

  • If a member of staff breaches the mobile phone policy, action will be taken in line with the staff code of conduct and allegations policy.

  • If a member of staff is thought to have illegal content on a mobile phone or have committed a criminal offence using a personal device or mobile phone, the police will be contacted and the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer) will be informed.

Use of setting’s mobile phones and devices

In addition to personal mobile phones, early years providers must also consider the safe use of any devices owned by the setting. Mobile phones and tablets can be valuable resources for taking photographic and video images of pupils for teaching and learning purposes, to record progress or to celebrate achievement. However, early years providers must set out a clear policy to ensure the appropriate use of any nursery devices and this should be used in conjunction with the e-safety and acceptable use IT policies. It could cover the following areas.

  • The setting’s mobile phones or tablets must only be used by members of staff for work purposes.

  • The setting’s devices will not have any social media or messaging apps on them.

  • Managers must ensure any apps downloaded onto nursery devices are age and content appropriate for the children or staff using them.

  • Passwords or passcodes for nursery devices must not be shared or written down and will be changed regularly.

  • Mobile phones and devices belonging to the setting will always be used in accordance with the acceptable IT use policy and activity may be monitored for safeguarding reasons and to ensure policy compliance.

  • During outings, staff will only use mobile phones belonging to the setting wherever possible.

  • Parental permission must be obtained on joining the setting for the use of photographs or videos of children and consent should be sought every 12 months.

  • Nursery devices must not be taken home with staff and must remain secure at the setting when not in use.

Parents and visitors

To protect children in the early years, most settings do not allow parents or visitors to use their mobile phones on the premises. Visitors should be informed of the policy before they visit or on arrival and this can be reinforced by signs. Members of staff should challenge visitors if they have concerns about their use of mobile phones or other devices and inform the manager or DSL of any breaches of policy.

Parents should also be advised that children cannot bring into the setting any devices that may take photographs or videos, such as phones or smart watches, to ensure that everyone is safeguarded and to protect personal property from loss or damage.

Summary

  • The use of mobile phones in early years settings has been under question.

  • Safeguarding policies must be clear on how mobile phones should and should not be used in settings.

  • Personal mobile use should be covered during staff induction and training.

  • Appropriate use of devices owned by the setting must be clearly set out.

  • Parents and visitors should be made aware of the setting’s policy on mobile phone use on the premises.