Anyone running a group with children, young people or adults-at-risk knows that special care has to be taken over a whole host of arrangements – safeguarding, health and safety, the care of the participants themselves and those leading the group. Running a group online encompasses these concerns, but also raises others around digital security and online safety. That is why we have put this guide together. On the other hand – please don’t let this stop you having a go! Mental health issues are rising among young people and children, and adults-at-risk have lost vital face-to-face contact. Running online groups for young people and adults-at-risk helps to provide vital social contact and structure. The case studies below lay out some of the planning process, and the end of the document provides more details around what we must do and general best practice.
If your group involves people with dementia or other reduced capacity, online groups can work really well to connect and support them. See this report from the Alzheimer Society for helpful best practice tips: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-professionals/dementia-experience-toolkit/real-life-examples/supporting-inclusion/using-video-technology-connect-people-dementia We are working towards having a case study for an online dementia support group to outline some of the issues involved.
Case Study 3: First Communion group – children, using zoom, praying online
St Hugo’s Parish
- Purpose – 30 children for first communion preparation. Wanting to engage families in doing First Communion preparation together.
- Platform – zoom/google meets. Lots of children use these at school and families often use it to keep in touch with each other. BUT – what can be done for families without access to the internet?
- Recruit moderators/hosts – Are your usual catechists comfortable with thinking about doing a programme online? Are there some others who might be interested in taking part, especially this year’s or last year’s parents? Think about what training and support you can provide, eg this video from Zoom which covers a lot of educational aspects.
- Online security – how do you know that you have the right people on your call? Ask everyone to have their screen names the same as their register names (eg not “Mum’s ipad”) and only admit those who are expected. Make sure all your catechists are aware of security issues. For more information see our training page.
- Choosing appropriate content – what programme are you going to use? Think about how the resource you’re going to use will work in an online context. Some parishes may wish to use printed materials where each family and catechist has their own copy. The American Pastoral Centre has family-based resources which would work well online as well: https://www.growingupcatholic.com/eucharist.html
- Inviting members and making them feel welcome – How are you going to reach the children and their families? Who is going to be at the meetings? (Children, parents or both?) Think about your first meeting in particular, making everyone feel welcome and setting the tone for your sessions. There are some great tips for icebreaker games here: https://www.methodist.org.uk/media/16728/games-to-play-on-zoom.pdf
- How to make your group interactive – this is really important with children. Think about the kinds of activities that you’ll want to do and think about some guidelines, eg do they wave if they want to ask a question or put it in the chat? How about using breakout groups for small group discussion? (this will depend on the platform you use and the numbers of catechists). Walk your group through their ways of interacting, ask your group to come up with agreed rules, send them home to parents, and keep referring to them. For more information see our training page
- Schedule regular meetings – you’re used to doing this as part of your annual programme, but have a think about how you can engage with parents, and what other opportunities being online gives you, for example a bake along, a social or a Catholic parenting discussion.
- Praying with your group – an essential part of every session. Have a think about how prayer with children and families might work online using some of the principles from the 10 Top Tips (above).
- Safeguarding – so important. See here for the safeguarding section on our training page.
Case Study 4: Confirmation or youth group session with teenagers
St Rita’s Parish
- Purpose – 10 youngsters aged 12-16 for Confirmation preparation (or a faith-based youth group).
- Platform – Zoom/Google Meets. Young people use a range of social media and digital platforms so talk to your group about what they use. (Be aware that some platforms may not have break-out rooms and other functionality). BUT – what can be done for families without access to the internet and/or limited data?
- Recruit moderators/hosts – you will need two per session and two for each breakout room. Are your usual catechists/youth ministers comfortable with thinking about doing a programme online? Who else in the parish might be interested, including young adults or some of your parents. Think about what training and support you can provide, eg this video from zoom.
- Online security – so that you know who you’ve got in your session (especially if they arrive with their camera off) ask everyone to have their screen names the same as their register names (eg not “Mum’s iPad”) and only admit those who are expected. Make sure all your catechists are aware of security issues, and how to cope with people who should not be there or are causing trouble. For more information see our training page.
- Choosing appropriate content – For Confirmation what programme are you going to use? It’s likely that you’re going to need to change what you usually do. A programme that works well online is “Chosen- your journey towards Confirmation
- Inviting members and making them feel welcome – Unless it is a closed group for those who have signed up for a Confirmation programme, how are you going to reach young people and their families? Who is going to be at the meetings? (young people, parents or both ?) Think about your first meeting in particular, making everyone feel welcome and setting the tone for your sessions. There are some great tips for icebreaker games here: https://www.methodist.org.uk/media/16728/games-to-play-on-zoom.pdf
- How to make your group interactive Think about the kinds of activities that you’ll want to do and think about some guidelines with your group – what ideas have they got to make your group work? How about using breakout groups for small group discussion? There are also possibilities to use other platforms for chat, but if using these as part of your session you will need two adults to moderate them. Walk your group through their ways of interacting, ask your group to come up with their own rules, and keep referring to them.
- Schedule regular meetings – can you mix things up a bit? What else could be included in your meetings – a live watch-along, cook together, crafts etc
- Praying with your group – so important for this age group. There are lots of YouTube videos, appropriate worship music etc which would work really well.
- Safeguarding – so important. See here for the safeguarding section on our training page.
What would this planning process look like for your group?
Work through the headings, seeing where any challenges might arise, but also where the opportunities are,
especially around new members or activities. Download our planning sheet and get started!
What you must do
For detailed advice see the online platform section of our policy document.
Mandatory safeguarding training – At least one Leader or co-host per session or breakout room must have undertaken this: see our training page for details of training. This should include action-to-be-taken, recording disclosures etc. The full policy has much more detail here.
Basic data protection principles – you will be dealing with online images of young individuals, plus their names, which is all personal data. What people may choose to disclose to the group about their personal lives is up to them, but leaders/hosts are responsible for ensuring, as far as possible, that it cannot be overheard/stolen by anyone else. Lists, e-mails or other data including recordings should be kept on a secure device.
Obtain Consent – parental consent is needed for any participant up to age 13 ; for young people aged between 13 and up to 16 parental consent is recommended in addition to their own. After age 16, only their own consent is needed.
Full advance information to parents about the platform being used, including how to download the application and any key issues they need to be aware of. The purpose of the online activity, the range of people participating e.g. children, adults, mixed, and the names and contact details of those responsible for the activity.
Privacy of meeting: registration messages– the messages you send advising participants of meeting entry codes, passwords should be notified by a private and secure method, not the newsletter or website. Otherwise ill-wishers can gain “authorised access” and data-privacy is compromised. Stress, especially to young people, that they need to ask the leader before inviting friends.
Basic content moderation, duty to ensure that all discussion is respectful and decent, no personal abuse or “bullying “, no illegal or indecent/offensive material is shared or circulated. Meeting hosts should make themselves aware how to quickly shut down troublemakers or intruders via the extensive helps for each platform. This is just as important, if not more so, in small-group “breakout rooms/ mini-meetings “ as in the main all-together meeting.
Awareness of “at-risk individuals” – this means people who may have good reason not to be filmed or have their images online. We must respect their right to be anonymous or not on video. For more information see the main policy document. There may also be people who do not want to appear with their camera on for a variety of reasons so we must be aware of their feelings too.
For more information about basic platform security, privacy settings, parish-name accounts, consents for recording go to the full policy document. Also see the training page for links to the various platforms. They change so regularly, anything we write here will not be up to date.
Copyright issues In all cases parishes should be aware of and fully comply with terms and conditions of the product/ subscription/ service and respect copyright. See our diocesan copyright guidance:
What it’s good to do – best practice
“Rules of engagement” All hosts and moderators should make themselves familiar with the various aspects of their platform to ensure that sessions run smoothly such as use of waiting-rooms, admission protocols, use of muting, screen-sharing, online etiquette.
“Off-line alternatives”, to reduce exclusion of non-online people, zoom allows you to create a dial in telephone number at the time of creating the meeting. This defaults to US numbers but is easy to edit in the meeting set up.
Encourage parents where it is possible to provide a space for their youngster’s participation which confers some degree of privacy. Using a communal room in the house/property is the ideal and where possible, this should be followed/used. However, it is acknowledged that space may be limited and in such cases it would be suitable for a bedroom to be used as long as additional safeguards are in place such as the door remaining open, parents/guardians being in close proximity and ensuring oversight.
Publicity and invitations. Think carefully about your audience and how to engage them. Ask people in your target audience how they get to hear about things. As ever personal invite is best!
Tips and techniques to make your sessions run smoothly and attractively. Do make sure the light is in front of your face, your computer or phone mic is picking you up (or use phone headphones with a mic attached) and don’t have anything behind you that will distract the people in the group (!) There are lots of YouTube videos online about running online sessions, including those provided by the various platforms. You can get more involved with backgrounds, extra tech etc and this something you can grow into as you get more confident, but it’s perfectly possible to run a good group with just the basics as long as you get them right. Here is a fantastic web page developed by a parishioner at St Augustine’s with a lot of tips for using Zoom.
Find a collection of training resources here, including for individual platforms and safeguarding.
Find our full policy document here.
Find examples of online groups in our diocese here and elsewhere on our lockdown parish page.