How Safe are our Children?

The release of NSPCC’s annual report ‘How Safe are our Children -2015’ on Wednesday brought to light some recent statistics on the sexual abuse of children and young people in the UK, along with some important recommendations on improvements to be made in practice.

We’ve put together a short summary in relation to the points around child sexual exploitation.

Increase in reporting of child sexual abuse

The report highlights a significant increase in the recording of child sexual abuse offences. Where previous increases have been small but progressive, the number of police-recorded sexual offences against children under 18 has risen by 39% in England in 2013/14 compared with 2012/13. The significant surge can be seen positively, suggesting that people now feel confident enough to report sexual abuse. This could partly be influenced by high profile sexual abuse cases in the media and improved recording standards in some police forces.

The figure in the report equates to 2.2 recorded sexual offences per 1000 children under 16. Whilst we acknowledge this represents an improvement in recording figures, it’s important that we don’t underestimate the scale of those sexual offences against children that go unreported.

However, the reporting of sexual abuse is only part of the battle; this surge in reported cases leads us to question whether we have adequate resources to support abused children both through potential court cases and therapeutic intervention.

CSE work to be done

“The child protection systems across the UK need to continue to adapt to new and emerging forms of abuse, including Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). The systems need to help practitioners feel confident in identifying and protecting victims, as well as contributing to working towards preventing CSE in the first place.”

We know it’s essential that all those working with children and young people have the skills to identify child sexual exploitation and should be given appropriate training and resources by senior management. As a charitable organisation working in partnership with statutory bodies across Derby and Derbyshire to tackle CSE, we recognise the importance of multi-agency working. For example, voluntary sector organisations can complement and support social workers, the police and others in responding effectively to child sexual exploitation.

Meeting the needs of all young people, and their families

“There is evidence that suggests child protection processes and procedures tend to be designed for work with young children in a family context. Adolescents require a more sophisticated model of risk prevention and protection”

Whilst there is a wealth of child protection training for professionals working with young people, not all training includes a family centred approach to tackling child sexual exploitation. For example, Derby City and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Boards have adopted a holistic approach through the ‘Think Family’ strategy, which aims to promote different agencies and professionals working together to better safeguard vulnerable adults, children and families and taking into account family circumstances and responsibilities in each individual case.

In addition, there may be gaps in CSE knowledge for professionals where the child protection training they have received has focussed on child sexual abuse indicators and responses to very young children, not teenagers.

As an organisation that supports both young people and their families, we understand that there are gaps in awareness of CSE amongst some parents and carers. We recognise how important it is to support families in their understanding of CSE, working with the whole family unit to help prevent and protect each young person, whilst also advocating for a service that is young person led.

We meet the needs of young people on an individual basis, ensuring that the support we provide is appropriate to their age, understanding and level of risk, and involves all the existing support mechanisms available in each child’s life.

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Lack of therapeutic resources

At a time when budgets in criminal justice systems, local authorities and healthcare continue to be squeezed, it is perhaps no surprise that the report finds a significant shortfall in therapeutic support for children who have experienced sexual abuse. The report found that at least another 55,000 clinical therapeutic support places would be needed per year to ensure all children receive the necessary support. Whilst this seems like a big aim, it is proportionate to the scale of the difficulty faced in securing support for victims and cannot be ignored.

Despite this under-resourcing, we need to ensure that disclosures of abuse are dealt with appropriately, that perpetrators are brought to justice without further trauma to the victim, and that support for those suffering effects of this abuse is provided in a timely way. Failing on these fronts is likely to have an adverse impact on future reporting figures, affecting people’s confidence to come forward and adding further pain and distress to victims.

Supporting young victims through the criminal justice system

“Once victims of child abuse enter the criminal justice process, too many find it a traumatising experience. The criminal justice system remains one designed by adults, for adults.”

We have an independent sexual violence adviser (ISVA) at Safe and Sound who supports young people through the criminal justice process and attempts to minimise the trauma that may occur with a young person going through a sexual abuse court case.

Currently, the decision to allow an ISVA to accompany a young person in the courtroom or video link room during a trial is made at the discretion of the judge working on the case. This leads to a lack of consistency in the service professionals are providing to young victims of sexual offences during the criminal justice process which can put young people at greater risk of re-traumatisation.

The ISVA role is a service we feel should be universal; available to every young person in every case. Failing to achieve this means we are not being victim focussed and therefore failing those young people who do not receive the appropriate support.

In fact, an ISVA needs to be involved at the earliest opportunity, from report to court, enabling trust to be established between the victim and their worker. This is the criminal justice system’s best opportunity to maintain engagement with vulnerable young people and achieve an outcome that is best for everyone. This includes giving the young person the reassurance and confidence to testify and bring about justice most effectively to perpetrators.

Re-traumatisation

“It is vital that children receive age-appropriate support at every stage of the criminal justice process to help them give their best evidence and to limit them being further traumatised by the justice process.”

Failures to respond appropriately in cases where re-traumatisation may occur, can then lead to other potential issues that put strain on health resources, such as mental ill health and substance misuse. We need to look at re-traumatisation holistically as this can occur at any point in their journey – whether it might be in making an initial report, giving a police statement, watching video evidence, during a victim impact statement, during an ID parade/VIPER (Video Identification Parade Electronic Recording) and after the case has been resolved. Therefore, it’s essential that support is available to each young person from the start, rather than simply offered after the case has closed.

Though there are potentially concerns amongst some therapeutic services supporting victims during a live case, through working with the police and/or the young person’s ISVA as appropriate, therapeutic services can tailor their approach to the victim ensuring case related evidence is not discussed but the young person is still supported.

Early intervention and education

We thoroughly support the early intervention recommendations from the report, as the key to reducing the social care response and as such the resource required to support victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Early preventative education is the most cost effective solution to the scale of the abuse in the current economic climate.

At a time where we are experiencing increasing referrals which feature suspected internet grooming and sexting amongst young people (sexting was the most viewed ChildLine Explore page in 2014/15), we continue to work with schools and education providers to spot the signs of CSE by developing age appropriate workshops to tackle these issues.

We offer cost effective training for professionals working with children and young people, through our open course programme and bespoke solutions. Have a look at our courses or fill in the form below to request a call back regarding bespoke training for your organisation.

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