Social workers need more specialist training on how to spot the signs that a child is being targeted for sexual abuse online, a survey by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the NSPCC has shown.
Half of all social workers surveyed said they felt concerned about dealing with online sexual abuse or behaviour.
A similar proportion said they do not know how to recognise the signs of online sexual abuse. Over two thirds felt they needed more support with such cases.
“It’s worrying that the majority of social workers surveyed are struggling to understand how online child abuse happens,” said Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC.
“We know they are doing a tough job under pressure and shouldn’t need to be technology experts, but they do need to have a grasp of the basics.”
BASW said social workers should have access to better training, particularly in light of the fact that the number of cases in which the internet plays a part in the grooming and abuse of children is rising.
Almost half (49%) of social workers surveyed said a quarter of their sexual abuse cases now involve some form of online abuse.
“Social workers need to be equipped to recognise the warning signs,” said Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for BASW. “Social work educators and employers must keep pace with new technology and training on the risks posed by social media should be an intrinsic part of learning.”
BASW is backing the NSPCC’s online learning programme, Keeping children safe online, which aims to educate child protection professionals about the risks the internet can pose to children.