child looking at website on a tablet

Helping Childline protect young people from inappropriate content through website personalisation

Childline work tirelessly to provide free and confidential support to young people, 24/7. They joined forces with NSPCC in 2006 with the sole focus of providing counselling services on a variety of sensitive topics from bullying to sexual abuse and relationships. The largest audience for Childline is 12-18 year olds, with content on its website created to instil self-resilience and confidence in young people.

Devoted to helping children of all ages, Childline promote their services to under 12s through the ‘Speak Out, Stay Safe’ school programme, supported by content on the NSPCC website. However, with content written primarily for an older audience, NSPCC recognised the need to improve the experience for a younger age range. NSPCC appointed Netcel to advise and plan on how a website personalisation strategy might be employed to protect younger Childline audiences from more mature content, without alienating older users. 

Another core aim of the project was to encourage under 12s to call the Childline helpline rather than self-help. Additionally, it was important to fully integrate content and promotion of the Childline website within the Speak Out, Stay Safe programme while reducing concerns from parents and teachers over the nature of the content delivered.

The first challenge for Netcel to overcome was the best means of identifying a website visitor’s age and an important question was raised around whether visitors should be allowed to self-select their age. However, it was decided that simply asking them wouldn’t be effective enough, as research showed that some children might lie about their age. Through initial workshops, Netcel walked through the art of the possible, utilising Childline’s personalisation capabilities within Episerver, the website’s Digital Experience Platform, including referrer URLs. Beyond Episerver’s inbuilt personalisation engine, Netcel explored the possibilities of direct questioning, progressive profiling, search terms, safe headers, AI Chat and identifying school IP address. While each solution was reviewed for their merits, no silver bullet existed to accurately identify a visitor’s age.

Childline my locker

To overcome this challenge, we advised on a layered approach where users would register for a My Locker (website user) account, utilising a link from a specific referred domain and self-select their age, thereby reducing the risk associated with safeguarding young people under 12. Different URLs were provided to KS1 and KS2 age groups to ensure that the website only delivered age appropriate content and messaging. A hierarchy of messaging was also set to encourage the young person to make contact or take action such as speaking to a trusted adult, calling Childline, or finding advice and information across the site. 


The second challenge was to consider how and to what extent the content could be adapted for the younger audience. With limited research and insights available on the under 12s audience, we devised a user engagement plan to be carried out in schools as part of a normal school lesson. The insights gleaned supported and directed decisions over user experience and NSPCC’s subsequent content creation.  Importantly, as a result of the personalisation consultancy, Netcel could advise on the optimum technical implementation, ensuring the investments made within the Episerver solution were maximised.

The new Childline website to support the Speak Out, Stay Safe programme successfully launched throughout UK primary schools in September 2018 and is now promoted to young children alongside the phone lines. Performance monitoring in the following months will assess the impact on helping younger people speak out while keeping them safe from abuse online. 

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