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Only one in eight children who are sexually abused are identified by professionals

The Children's Commissioner calls for urgent action to improve prevention

The true scale of child sex abuse in England is likely to be significantly greater than official figures suggest, according to a report published today by the Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield.

Though police and local authorities recorded around 50,000 cases of sexual abuse over the two years to March 2014, it is estimated that as many as 450,000 children were abused over the same period – meaning that only one in eight received the vital intervention needed to keep them safe and help to overcome their experiences.

The majority of victims go unidentified because the services that protect them, including the police and social services, are geared towards children self-referring or reporting abuse, although they rarely do this. Often, children do not even recognise that they have been abused until they are much older.

The report, entitled Protecting children from harm: A critical assessment of child sexual abuse in the family network in England and priorities for action, reveals that the vast majority of child sexual abuse (66%) takes place within the family or its trusted circle. There are additional barriers to children reporting this type of abuse resulting in most going unreported.

The report reveals:

The Commissioner recommends that:

  1. A strategy for the prevention of child sexual abuse, in all its forms, is developed and implemented by relevant Government departments, including the Department for Education, Department of Health and Home Office.
  2. The Government explores how to strengthen the statutory responsibilities of organisations and professionals working with children, as part of their duty of care to children and young people, to ensure that all professionals work together more effectively to identify abuse.
  3. The Government recognises the importance of and coordinates all sources of support for children and families where there is a particular risk of sexual abuse, including the Troubled Families programme, to ensure that victims are more effectively identified and helped.
  4. All schools equip all children, through compulsory lessons for life, to understand healthy and safe relationships and to talk to an appropriate adult if they are worried about abuse.
  5. All schools take the necessary steps to implement a whole-school approach to child protection, where all school staff can identify the signs and symptoms of abuse, and are equipped with the knowledge and support to respond effectively to disclosures of abuse. This should be supported by the Department for Education. In addition, a new role or embedded social worker should be considered.
  6. All teachers in all schools are trained and supported to understand the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. This should be part of initial teacher training and ongoing professional development, with the latter requirement reflected in the statutory guidance on Keeping Children Safe in Education.
  7. All Achieving Best Evidence interviews are undertaken in the presence of an intermediary or a suitably qualified child psychologist, and that appropriate provision for this is made by the Ministry of Justice and police forces.
  8. From the moment of initial disclosure, children receive a holistic package of support, tailored to their needs, including therapeutic support to help them recover from their experiences. The Barnahus model should be piloted in England, in order to determine its potential for improving victims' experiences of statutory interventions, including the criminal justice process.
  9. The Government reviews the process of inter-agency investigation of child sexual abuse, including the role of the police and children's social workers, to ensure that the process minimises the potential for re-traumatisation, whilst maximising the possibility of substantiating abuse and taking effective protective action and taking the views of the child into account.
  10. The Home Office amend and update the Annual Data Requirement to ensure that all police forces record this aspect of child sexual abuse-related crimes, and ensure compliance among all police forces.
  11. Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour receive proportionate and timely intervention to reduce the risk of this behaviour continuing into adulthood.

The full report is here. A summary is here.