Chris Mahony 04 February 2020

Local agencies 'woefully ill-equipped' to stop child abuse

Children are being left at risk because local agencies – including social care – are often ‘woefully ill-equipped’ to prevent and respond to child sex abuse in families, four inspectorates have warned.

In a hard-hitting report the inspectorates suggest that agencies are failing to apply lessons learned during child exploitation scandals to sexual abuse taking place within the family home.

Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary & Fire and Rescue Services conducted a joint targeted area inspection of relevant services in six local authority areas.

The inspectors identified shortcomings in training and support for frontline professionals across all the agencies. Their report also calls for concerted local and national information campaigns to raise the profile of familial child sexual abuse and improve understanding.

A 2015 report by the Children’s Commissioner concluded that around two-thirds of child sex abuse takes place within the family environment. Despite that, today’s report says, ‘efforts to protect children are being hampered because agencies – and society more generally – are afraid to talk about familial sex abuse’.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said: ‘As a society we are far too reluctant to talk about sex abuse within the family home…Prevention is the best form of protection. As it stands, children abused in the home are going unseen and unheard because agencies simply aren’t capable of keeping them safe. The lack of national and local focus on this issue is deeply concerning and must be addressed.’

The inspectorates found some examples of good practice – including information initiatives in schools –but these tended to be piecemeal.

Their concerns included:

  • Poor communication and joint working
  • Classifying known child abuse victims in child protection records as being victims of neglect or emotional abuse
  • A failure to conduct holistic assessments
  • A failure to consider the risk to a victim’s siblings or other children.

The inspections focussed on services in Bracknell Forest, Cornwall CC, Derby City, Islington LBC, Shropshire County Council and York City Council.

It is the latest in a series of joint targeted inspections since 2016 to establish how well agencies are working together in key child protection areas.

Rachel Dickinson, ADCS President, said: ‘Tackling child abuse in all its forms is a priority for all local authorities but as the report states, sexual abuse in the family environment is a very complex area. A multiagency response is needed to both uncover and address this abuse and close working with schools, probation, health partners and the police is key.

'The report highlights good practice in the areas that were inspected, however, it’s clear that much more needs to be done by all safeguarding partners to ensure we identify, protect and support children being abused within the family. Any potential national strategy should give specific consideration to boys, disabled children and children from certain ethnic backgrounds who can face additional barriers to disclosure.’

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