Identifying and responding to concerns of child sexual abuse is challenging for practitioners. It remains the case that the majority of child sexual abuse goes unidentified and unreported in childhood. We cannot expect children to disclose abuse in order for it to be identified and responded to. We need to ensure that professionals working with children have the knowledge, confidence and support to be professionally curious and act appropriately in order to safeguard and support children where there are concerns of sexual abuse. The CSA Centre seeks to build confidence in the workforce to address CSA by improving the access to, and embedding of, evidence within practice.
In 2018 the CSA Centre developed the CSA Practice Leads Programme, an intensive programme of training and development which sought to build practitioners’ understanding and confidence in identifying and responding to CSA, and support them to cascade their learning within their services. Between October 2018 and January 2020 it was piloted in three local authorities and one a national charity supporting adults primarily with substance misuse support needs who are likely to be survivors of child sexual abuse. The evaluation of the pilot provides strong evidence of the programme's quality and value in enabling local authorities to improve their identification and response to concerns of CSA.
We are now preparing to pilot the CSA Practice Leads Programme with multi-agency groups and in light of the likely continued social distancing requirements we will be adapting the programme for remote delivery.
Piloting the CSA Practice Leads Programme in social work
Improving the social work response to child sexual abuse is essential both in terms of reducing the long term impact of sexual abuse on individuals and their families, but also on public services and society as a whole. Research has shown that many social workers lack training on CSA and therefore do not have the knowledge, skills and confidence to work effectively with cases where there are concerns of CSA. By establishing an evidence-informed understanding of sexual abuse and offending amongst social workers, team managers and early help services, we can increase safe, confident, competent and proportionate responses to such cases.
The pilot of the CSA Practice Leads Programme in three local authority children's services comprised 10 days of small-group learning sessions, held over 10 months, including half-day reflective case discussions connecting evidence to ‘on the ground’ practice experiences. The programme covered key areas for understanding and addressing CSA identified through the CSA Centre’s research, scoping work and engagement with the sector:
- the scale, nature and impact of CSA;
- disclosures and the social work role;
- CSA in different contexts (intra-familial, online-facilitated, CSE);
- working with children and non-offending parents/carers;
- working with children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour;
- women who sexually abuse children;
- working with survivors;
- child wellbeing and the child protection process.
This report presents the findings from an evaluation of the pilot programme which was carried out by the CSA Centre’s research and evaluation team at the end of the programme. It sought to explore the implementation of the programme and assess the extent to which it achieved its intended outcomes. This evaluation report provides strong evidence of the programme’s quality and value in enabling local authorities to improve their identification and response to concerns around CSA. Key findings include:
- There was strong evidence of the programme’s impact on participants’ knowledge, skills and confidence in identifying and responding to CSA concerns; this had enhanced their practice and enabled them to develop as specialists within their teams and wider organisations.
- The quality of the programme’s delivery emerged strongly in participants’ feedback; they had particularly valued that such a sensitive and complex subject had been approached in a manner that felt both positive and safe.
- CSA Practice Leads were disseminating their learning by sharing resources and delivering presentations to wider teams. They were also starting to support colleagues to overcome the fear and uncertainty that surrounds concerns of CSA, and, at times, were challenging them to ask direct questions and not let CSA concerns be put aside owing to lack of proof.
“The programme has given me the confidence to talk about sexual abuse and has provided me with tools where I believe I could support children and families a lot more effectively than previously”. (Participant)
“I have found the course incredibly useful and thought provoking and I feel it has absolutely enhanced my practice.” (Participant)
The CSA Centre is committed to supporting practitioners to improve our collective response to child sexual abuse, as we look to the future development of the CSA Practice Leads Programme we will consider how to best support CSA Practice Leads to continue disseminating their learning and how to review the longer-term impact the programme has on local authorities’ response to concerns of CSA. The evaluation of the programme pilot in adult substance misuse services will also be published this summer.