National progress on tackling child sexual exploitation has not reached frontline practice, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner has found.
Published today, ‘If it’s not better, it’s not the end’, found children’s social workers are not routinely implementing learning about child sexual exploitation (CSE) into their practice.
It revealed that strong strategies to tackle sexual exploitation “do not always lead to effective frontline practice”, according to local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs), police forces and voluntary sector organisations.
Police forces and LSCBs – most of whom have CSE strategies in place – were praised for their progress, but concerns remain that this has not filtered down to frontline social workers. One possible reason is that most CSE strategies are still very new, the report suggested.
“It is clear that, at the frontline, much work is still needed,” said Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner for England.
“There is a gap between strategy and what happens on the ground. I am concerned that some areas continue to focus on one pattern of abuse overlooking child victims and perpetrators of some of the other types of sexual exploitation our work uncovered.”
Despite heightened awareness of the problem, too many victims and children at risk are still not being identified. Indeed, less than half of LSCBs (48%) said social care agencies in their area had identified any victims at all.
The report also found less than a third (31%) of LSCBs had involved children and young people in the design of their strategies.
Peter Grigg, director of campaigns and policy at The Children’s Society, said the report should act as a wake-up call for social services. “The time has come to move from plans to real actions to protect children and young people,” he said.
He added: “We have to stop relying solely on children coming forward to report abuse and sexual exploitation. Professionals working with children – the police, teachers, social services and health staff – should pay careful attention to the signs of child sexual exploitation and communicate with each other about it.”
Guides for social workers on safeguarding children and young people from child sexual exploitation are available on Community Care Inform Children.