Following a successful pilot, the charities Missing People and Childline (NSPCC) have launched ‘Is This OK?’, their ground-breaking free and anonymous chatbot for children and young people at risk of, or currently experiencing, sexual or criminal exploitation and/or abuse.
Is This OK? was made possible thanks to funding from BBC Children in Need, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists’ (WCIT) Charity and with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Is This OK? empowers young people to seek support who may not otherwise seek help due to worries about disclosing problems. Advice is available online and via a chatbot – young people can then have a live chat with trained professionals and they are also signposted to local support services.
Young people, including those with lived experience of exploitation, have helped shape the service. During consultation they spoke of the importance of the service being both confidential and anonymous. They contributed to the design of the chat-bot, the website and new marketing materials aimed at those who are at risk or currently experiencing exploitation or harm.
During the initial six-month pilot in Waltham Forest and Bradford, the chatbot was accessed 1,746 times and as a result 344 live chats were initiated by young people. From that pilot, 77% of young people reported feeling either scared, bad or angry; almost half (47%) of young people engaging in a live chat reported they were currently experiencing issues relating to coercive control, sexual or physical violence; and 43% of live chat users reported that they had either run away or considering doing so. This makes the chatbot a particularly effective tool for Missing People and Childline.
The service is currently available in Waltham Forest, Bradford and more recently Stoke-on-Trent. It will be scaled up over the next year to six to eight new areas across the UK, with a view to becoming a national service.