It remains the case that most cases of child sexual abuse are neither reported nor identified during childhood and so will not appear in official agency data. The extent to which agencies recognise, respond to and record concerns of CSA is important. On this page we draw on two examples where we have examined existing reporting methods and reviewed how these could be amended and adjusted to help professionals acurrately reflect the scale of care needed, without budensome or unrealistic methods. As with all data collection in child sexual abuse, the better we can understand the scale and nature of abuse, the better placed we are at addressing it and implementing effective change.
Learning from children's services in Wales
Building on our work exploring current trends and variations in official data on child sexual abuse, the CSA Centre and the Welsh Government commissioned a study to build a better understanding of the scale of child sexual abue encountered by local authority children’s services.The research examined a sample of electronic social care records relating to children in two Welsh local authorities. A total of 44 case files, drawn from across a range of social work interventions, were studied and supplemented by two focus groups with 10 social workers from the two local authorities.
Note: The research contributes directly and indirectly to some of the actions set out in the Welsh Government's National Action Plan: Preventing and Responding to Child Sexual Abuse.
The scale of CSA concerns encountered by local authority children’s services is significantly under-reported in official data
- Official data on the scale of child sexual abuse within children’s services caseloads significantly under-represents the reality of these concerns
- Concerns relating to child sexual abuse were recorded in many of the case files, including those where child sexual abuse, specifically, was not identified as a key concern. Just 1/5th of the 30 children whose records identified child sexual abuse concerns were on the child protection register for sexual abuse, or multiple forms of abuse including sexual abuse
- Child protection registrations are a poor indicator of the overall scale of child sexual abuse concerns in the system, as they represent only a small proportion of cases involving child sexual abuse that come to the attention of children’s services
- Social workers appeared hesitant to record child sexual abuse concerns where the child had not verbally disclosed (although concerns were not similarly expressed about cases of suspected child sexual exploitation (CSE), where the approach was to record risk indicators and signs of abuse)
- Children’s experiences do not neatly reflect labels such as intra-familial abuse, harmful sexual behaviour and CSE – the records detailed concerns about multiple forms of abusive behaviour, both inside and outside their family environment.
This study highlights significant issues, which we believe have a major impact on current understandings of the scale and nature of abuse, and the way in which services are organised and resources prioritised. Most importantly, they are likely to have a profound impact on the level and quality of support that many sexually abused children receive from local services. Significantly, our wider research and practice activities and discussions with relevant policymakers and professionals confirm that the issues identified are far from unique to Wales, and the findings will be equally relevant to those leading CSA policy and practice in England. In response, the CSA Centre has made 10 recommendations for changes to local and national policy and practice in response.
Characteristics and experiences of children and young people attending Saint Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Greater Manchester
A review of 986 case files
Working with Saint Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre (St Mary’s SARC) we conducted research to explore the value and practicability for agencies to collect core data systematically about the nature of child sexual abuse, the people involved in and affected by it, and associated services. To do so, we extracted, and retrospectively analysed, narrative data from almost 1000 case files, using a set of core data fields, to find out about the people who are accessing the St Mary’s SARC services, and just as importantly, the people who aren’t accessing them.
The study found that the introduction of consistent and comprehensive data collection would be unlikely to add additional burden to the existing data recording ask. In fact, much of the data already existed in the narrative case files; but by moving to methods where information would be collected in a way that is extractable, easier to interpret and analyse would allow for better monitoring and comparison across services, localities and interventions. The report provides valuable insights which could be used to inform improvements in future practice and service reach, for example: compared to the local population, minority ethnic groups were under-represented in the sample and boys were more likely than girls to attend St Mary’s SARC after long periods of abuse. Through greater data collection, they could address this by testing intervention and outreach activity aimed at identifying boys earlier and being more accessible to BAME children and communities.