04 Jan 2024

General Updates

Keeping child sexual abuse on the agenda

The start of a new year is always a good moment to take stock. Our Director, Ian Dean, reflects on how productive 2023 was for the CSA Centre and looks ahead to some of the work that will keep us busy into 2024.

The start of a new year is always a good moment to pause, reflect and take stock. As we move into 2024, I’d like to use this blog to look back on an exceptionally busy and productive year for the CSA Centre. In the past 12 months, we’ve launched many new publications and training courses, completely overhauled our website, worked with local partnerships across the country to improve their understanding of and response to sexual abuse, and continued our work to ensure that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse are central in the thoughts of decision makers.

Keeping child sexual abuse a policy priority

The publication of the final report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in late 2022, shone an important spotlight on child sexual abuse. We’ve worked hard to ensure this focus is maintained across a range of policy areas including: the development of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, updates to policy and guidance across education, health, criminal justice, social care and the proposed changes to Working Together. Responding to consultations on mandatory reporting, new practice standards and the early career framework for social workers we have been able to re-emphasise the importance of building knowledge and confidence around the identification and response to child sexual abuse. We’re also currently working with the Welsh Government on the next National Action Plan for child sexual abuse in Wales.

Training thousands of multi-agency professionals

Our work to drive improved practice in response to child sexual abuse has continued to gather pace, with thousands of professionals attending CSA Centre training over the past year. We’ve just added 17 new courses to our roster of dedicated training, providing our most extensive selection of training opportunities yet. We launched our first eLearning course in February 2023: Identifying and responding to intra-familial child sexual abuse. The course takes just 90 minutes to complete and is entirely free of charge. It’s designed for all professionals working with children at all stages of their career; including those new to safeguarding as well as offering a helpful refresher to more experienced professionals. And I’m happy to say almost 3000 professionals have signed-up to date. We’ll be launching a new consultation service early in 2024 too, providing a opportunity for professionals to discuss any cases of concern with members of our team of multi-agency practice improvement advisers, another example of how we plan to continue to develop and enhance the support we provide to local practice.

Disseminating research & resources

2023 was also a busy year for publications from the CSA Centre – we released no fewer than 11 research reports, summaries and practice guides across the year. This has been followed by many more months of work to get these publications out into the world and into practice, and it’s been so satisfying to see more and more local partnerships and individual professionals making use of our work and using it to improve their own understanding and response.

Our practice guides on Managing risk and trauma after online sexual offending and Sibling sexual behaviour have both been well received by professionals, who’ve long reported a lack of confidence in responding to these issues due to the lack of detailed advice and guidance available. We’re now supporting a number of local areas to embed these and many of our other resources across their partnerships and will continue to do so over the coming year. Do get in touch if your own area would be interested in working with us too, or if you have any feedback on your experience of using any of our resources – we learn so much from the feedback we get from the frontline, so please don’t be shy in letting us know what you think!

Last year, our suite of Key messages from research papers grew considerably with new editions summarising the research and evidence base on child sexual abuse in online contexts and the impacts of child sexual abuse, and comprehensive updates to our existing reports on intra-familial abuse, abuse in institutional contexts and harmful sexual behaviour.

Our annual Trends in official data report showed promising signs of potential improvements in identification of concerns last year, with a 15% increase in both police recorded offences and social work assessments identifying sexual abuse as a concern, after decades of falling rates. Our 2024 report, scheduled for release next month, will show whether these trends have been sustained. We also published updated practical guidance for local partnerships on how to improve their data on child sexual abuse, helping partners better understand the extent and context of child sexual abuse in their area and the steps needed to improve the quality and consistency of the data they collect.

In December, we published the Child Sexual Abuse Response Pathway, our interactive online resource that guides professionals through how they can protect and support children and their families when there are concerns of sexual abuse.

 As with all our work, the Response Pathway isn’t designed to just tell professionals what to do, but to help them understand how to do it – we link across to a range of practical tools and resources throughout, providing the most comprehensive guide to yet to how all agencies can respond more effectively to concerns of sexual abuse.

Developing the Response Pathway has been a real labour of love for the team. We must also thank the many strategic, academic and frontline stakeholders who lent us their experience and expertise in refining content during its development, and our three pilot areas, Barking and Dagenham, Bristol and Lincolnshire, for helping us to understand how to best implement the work in practice. And we’re indebted to the experts by experience who helped us to make sure that the needs of children and families remain central throughout. The Response Pathway and its linked practice resources have already been fully integrated into a new child sexual abuse section of the London Safeguarding Children Procedures, and we have big plans to roll it out more widely over the coming year. Watch this space for details of free webinars and other support from the CSA Centre for partnerships who want to find out more.

And all of this information is now easier to find and engage with than ever, having launched our new, fully accessibility-compliant website in October. With upgraded search capability, a new directory of all our publications and new design features and images across the whole site. As you are reading this online I’ll assume you have already seen it – but please let us know what you think.

Looking ahead to 2024

The coming year will undoubtedly be another busy one for the CSA Centre. Later this month we will publish Support Matters, our research into the current provision of support services for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. It details the results of an extensive process of mapping and interviewing hundreds of services for both children and adults to better understand the extent, challenges and strengths of current provision. Never before have we had such rich and detailed information about the environment that services are operating in, and we have exciting plans to make this information available in new and creative ways to enable commissioners and others to better support existing service provision and understand where and how to extend the help available.

We’re also delighted to have been commissioned by the Child Safeguarding Review Panel to undertake a national review into child sexual abuse in the family environment, in which we’ll be taking analysis from more than a hundred local child safeguarding practice reviews while also undertaking in depth fieldwork in 20-25 local areas; incredibly difficult and emotionally challenging work, but so very important in helping us to understand and address current gaps in practice.

And, we hope, another opportunity to ensure that child sexual abuse remains high on the national agenda. All of this will sit alongside our ongoing work to help local areas to improve their own responses to sexual abuse, making our practice resources and research as widely available as possible and supporting local areas to embed this work into practice.

A thank you

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our two main funders, the Home Office and the Indigo Trust, and our hosts at Barnardo’s for making all of this work possible, and for continuing to give us the freedom and independence to target our efforts at the issues professionals tell us are priorities. But most of all, thanks to all of you reading this for the incredible work that you do, and particularly to those who’ve engaged with us and supported our work over the past year. While we are the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse, we’re under no illusion that so much of that expertise sits out in the wider sector, and amongst experts by experience, and we continue to learn a huge amount from working in partnership with other organisations and hearing from those who have such knowledge and experience to share.

Our mission statement is to reduce the impact of child sexual abuse through improved prevention and better response, and we can only do that by working in partnership with the great many practitioners, academics, policy makers and victims and survivors who have also made this their goal. I hope that these partnerships will continue to thrive over the coming year, and for many more years to come.