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Sex abuse in families going under the radar, say inspectorates

Report into ‘the multi-agency response to child sexual abuse in the family environment’ published

Children sexually abused by family members are going unseen and unheard in too many cases, while abusers evade justice, according to a new report.

Inspectorates Ofsted, HMICFRS, Care Quality Commission and HMI Probation found that local agencies are often woefully ill-equipped to deal with child sex abuse in families. Efforts to prevent abuse are largely absent, while ineffective criminal investigations are, in the worst cases, leaving children at risk.

According to the report, familial abuse accounts for some two-thirds of all child sex abuse, though the true figure could be even higher due to under-reporting. Despite the likely extent of the problem, local and national strategies to tackle it are virtually non-existent.

The inspectorates expose a worrying lack of knowledge and focus on familial abuse from all local partners. While agencies have improved their response to child grooming outside the home, the less high-profile issue of familial sex abuse is not getting the priority it needs, the report finds.

The report examines how well children's social care, health, youth offending, police and probation services work together to keep children who are sexually abused in families safe. Although inspectors found pockets of good work, this was inconsistent at best.

Important lessons learned from dealing with child sexual exploitation are not being applied to abuse in families. Professionals don't know enough about perpetrators; how to identify them and how to stop them from abusing children. Better training and support for those on the front line is vital, the inspectorates say.

The report calls on policy makers and local partners to give familial sex abuse the attention it deserves; so that its prevalence can be better understood, victims are protected, and offenders are brought to justice.

The report finds:

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, responding to the report, said:

"In 2015, I published a report warning that the vast majority of children who have been sexually abused at home were not known to the authorities and that a system which waits for children to tell someone cannot be effective.

"It was clear then that many professionals working with children, and the system, were ill-equipped to identify and act on the signs of abuse. Five years later, amid the rising cost of children's social care and with less spent on early intervention, many children are still being let down badly.

"The Government's promise to hold a review into the care system must be a means to reset the support for these vulnerable children – to provide the early identification and the help children need, and child-centred therapeutic support for children to help them recover.

"The Lighthouse Project in London, based on the Icelandic Barnahus model, is a beacon of good practice for children who have been sexually abused, and I would like to see it replicated across the country."

For the report, click here. For the announcement of the report's findings, click here.