Safeguarding the unsung heroes: Fostering staff welfare across the organisation

Published:  Tue 10 Oct 2023

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) analysts do one of the most difficult yet important jobs in the world. They tirelessly assess and remove images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children and young people from the internet. This is why it’s so important that the wider IWF team makes sure the welfare provisions at our charity are adequate to help analysts cope with the nature of their work.

This World Mental Health Day we review our welfare system, designed to protect the mental wellbeing of our staff.

1. Before joining the team

Our commitment to welfare starts when a candidate is considered for the position. All new analysts need to go through a training programme, carefully managed to help them process and cope with graphic and disturbing images.

There is no single profile of an analyst. They are a diverse group of people united by their emotional resilience and their passion to help protect child victims of sexual abuse. Their commitment and the sensitive nature of the work give them a camaraderie, enhanced by the fact that all members of the team are encouraged to talk to their colleagues or managers about anything that might worry them at work and to keep an eye out for signs that another member of the team might be going through a difficult time.

2. Regular breaks, no overtime

To make sure analysts’ welfare needs are met, staff in the Hotline work shorter days, and overtime work is not allowed, prioritising a good work-life balance. Analysts also take regular breaks and are encouraged to have lunch in a bright communal space, with plenty of options to break the day, including table tennis, video games, jigsaws, etc.

A working group within the organisation meets regularly to address staff welfare concerns and organises team-building exercises to boost morale.

3. Mandatory monthly counselling

It’s crucial that analysts leave the work behind when they leave the office at the end of the day, so all members of staff who view criminal images have mandatory monthly sessions with a counsellor, to give analysts the time to consider how the exposure to criminal content might be affecting their home life, and to explore different techniques to deal with the disturbing content.

Analysts can find some images ‘triggering’ for various reasons - from the sound in the video to the presence of a particular piece of clothing or due to the age of the child. In these occasions, the analysts can work with the therapist to limit the impact of such viewing with various techniques, one such technique being to imagine the image painted on a wall, and mentally breaking down the wall, reducing the impact that the image has on the mind of the analyst.

4. Annual assessments

In addition to the monthly sessions, all members of staff who see content have an annual appointment with a clinical psychologist. This session is designed to prevent trauma from occurring.

To be able to do their jobs, analysts need to be desensitised to a certain extent, so the shocking images won’t negatively impact their mental health. Training is designed to equip analysts with the tools to protect themselves and avoid ‘filling in the gaps’ of the scenarios seen in the images, for instance by imagining what might have happened to the child.

Nonetheless, our analysts collect vital data to help law enforcement and the tech industry to stop the distribution of criminal material and bring offenders to justice. This realisation helps them tirelessly work to put an end to this global crime. 

There are many ways in which you can help us continue our vital work:

  • Report images and videos of child sexual abuse online to the IWF to be removed. Reports are anonymous and can safeguard a child from a life of abuse.
  • To report any other harmful content, please contact the relevant agencies. Find the details on our website.
  • Donations help us continue our vital work supporting victims of child sexual abuse.
  • Help us spread the word and share this article with your networks.
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