Related Sector: Health & Social Care

Child sexual exploitation by its very nature is a global threat and the UK is said to be leading the global response. With a raft of new legislation such as The Children and Social Work Act 2017, the implementation of the new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel and the setting up of The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, the Government’s has pledged an ongoing commitment to tackling Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).

Multi-agency and interagency working is expected tobe used more effectively to spot the signs of CSE early. Under the new legislation Local Authorities, the police, children’s and health services have a statutory duty to work together to identify and stamp it out in their area.
It has promised millions of pounds into funding for CSE training for the police sector, the NCA, The NHS and of course throughout out every tier of social work.

The Government aims to strengthen accountability of social work practice by introducing an expectation that all Local Safeguarding Children Boards will conduct regular local assessments on the effectiveness of local responses to CSE and publish the outcome of those assessments through their annual reports.

The Department of Education recently updated the statutory definition of Child Sexual Exploitation to the following:

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

How big is the problem?

In 2015, the Government declared CSE a 'national threat'.  We know that CSE is a hidden and under-reported crime and children themselves are often unaware they are being groomed. Figures are difficult to obtain however the NCA report that they receive around 1,800 referrals a month in relation to indecent images of children. Children’s Services also saw a 3.5% increase in the number of children who became the subject of a Child Protection Plan (CPP) as a result of sexual abuse.

Where are social workers failing?

Social workers’ low confidence is influenced by their lack of knowledge in the subject area and the lack of access to the most up-to-date information and training on grooming, trafficking and internet abuse. There is also a lack of understanding in the related and complex areas of modern slavery, domestic abuse and missing children. CSE can manifest in many different ways, and has clear links to other forms of abuse and exploitation such gang violence and modern slavery.

  • Social workers struggle to identify the signs and indicators of CSE. One of the reasons is that most children who are high risk are between the age of 10 and 15 years old, meaning it  is often hard to tell the difference between teenage behaviour and signs of CSE. Social workers must also be able to identify ways to differentiate ‘at risk’ and actual cases.
  • Many social workers who are faced with these situations are newly qualified and are not sufficiently trained in how to work with victims of potential sexual exploitation and perpetrators (who can also themselves, be children).
  • There is a lack of consistent approach amongst professionals in terms of assessment, tools and indictors
  • Social workers lack understanding around government proposals which will affect the way social workers tackle the complex nature of CSE risks. They also lack understanding around the new legislation which provides for increased accountability of social workers.

What can be done?

In the Department for Education practice advice paper 2017, the government has set out the basis of development and training in this area for social workers. The expectation is that social workers must:

  • Have a clear understanding of what CSE is and the current laws around it,
  • Recognise the signs of CSE and how to respond appropriately,
  • Improved confidence in tackling and working with CSE, and online CSE,
  • Know their safeguarding responsibilities and local reporting routes,
  • Identify best practice in responding to concerns, referral and signposting,
  • Improved understanding of multi-agency working with police and NHS and understanding of how to implement of information sharing where there are concerns about CSE,
  • Understand that CSE is a form of child sexual abuse and that child sexual exploitation can take many different forms (online and offline),
  • Provide protection and support to all under 18’s and that practice safeguarding duties that do not depend on a child or young person’s desire to be safeguarded,
  • Have the ability to see beyond presenting behaviours and exercise ‘professional curiosity’,
  • Be able to apply professional judgment, supported by effective supervision and robust tools, in decision-making and practice.
  • Develop practical skills in facilitating conversations with children and young people, and with their parents/carers.

Bond Solon delivers a one-day interactive skills-based course on CSE and Online Abuse. The course is designed to give your social workers the confidence and skills when dealing with actual, and potential CSE cases, in order to identify the signs at an early stage and to provide protection to those at risk.

Meena Wells
Bond Solon Subject Matter Expert & Children's Social Care Trainer

This article was first published on Monday 12 March 2018.


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