We know that identifying and responding to concerns of child sexual abuse is challenging for professionals. Sadly, it remains the case that the majority of child sexual abuse goes unidentified and unreported in childhood. In tackling this, the Child Sexual Abuse Practice Leads Programme has been able to build confidence in the workforce to address child sexual abuse through improved access to, and embedding of, evidence within practice.
The Child Sexual Abuse Practice Leads Programme is an intensive course of training and development that seeks to build professionals’ understanding and confidence in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse and support them to cascade their learning within their services.
The programme was originally piloted with social workers in three English local authorities, and in an organisation supporting adults with substance misuse issues; evaluations published in 2020 had found it to be effective in both settings.
It was then adapted to suit a multi-agency audience, and to online delivery in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and piloted in Wales.
Piloting the multi-agency Child Sexual Abuse Practice Leads Programme in Wales
This multi-agency programme was piloted between October 2020 and March 2021 in two Welsh local authority areas. 46 professionals attended from health and social care, education and the criminal justice system. This included police officers from public protection units; social workers from children’s services, professionals working in vulnerable adults services and community wellbeing; safeguarding nurses and a specialist paediatrician; a local authority lawyer; youth justice workers; a specialist advisor for education; and the manager of a children’s centre.
Participants were carefully selected and positioned in organisations to “maximise sustainability of knowledge sharing”. Following training, they provide a main point of contact within an agency for colleagues seeking advice on matters relating to child sexual abuse, to support them with cases of child sexual abuse, through training or consultation. Some may also be able to develop improved services for children and families where there are concerns of child sexual abuse.
The course consisted of ten one-day sessions, delivered online over six months. Respondents said the training had generated new insights and made them challenge and reflect on their existing practice, with several highlighting specific changes they had made to their practice. Most reported that they had shared their learning with others, both within and outside their own agencies. Four-fifths (n=27) felt that the programme had led them to make changes to their practice, and even more (n=30) felt better able to support children and young people identified as being at risk of or experiencing child sexual abuse. Fifteen respondents reported that they had been able to support colleagues with cases of child sexual abuse as a result of taking part in the programme and ten respondents had shared learning with people outside their organization. Respondents welcomed the multi-agency aspect of the training, saying it had been useful to hear other perspectives and learn more about other agencies’ roles in the response to child sexual abuse.
“In 17 years, this is without doubt the best training and experience of learning and multi-agency working together that I have had.”
Piloting the Child Sexual Abuse Practice Leads Programme in social work
Improving the social work response to child sexual abuse is essential in order to reduce the long-term impact of this abuse on individuals and their families, on public services and society as a whole. Social workers work with some of the most vulnerable children in our society and are well-placed not only to identify indicators of abuse and abusive behaviour, but also to work alongside families to reduce the risk of abuse and the harm caused. Despite this, research indicates that many social workers lack training in relation to child sexual abuse and currently do not have the knowledge and expertise to work confidently with cases of child sexual abuse.
This programme was first piloted between October 2018 and January 2020 in three English local authorities, selected based on evidence of need and the commitment from the Principal Social Worker locally. The programme was completed by 32 social workers, with the evaluation report providing evidence of the programme’s quality and value in helping local authorities to improve their identification and response to concerns around child sexual abuse. Including:
- Strong evidence of the programme’s impact on participants’ knowledge, skills and confidence in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse concerns; enhancing practice and enabling professionals to develop as specialists within their teams and wider organisations
- Quality of delivery emerged strongly in participants’ feedback; they had particularly valued the way that such a sensitive and complex subject had been approached in a manner that felt both positive and safe
- Child Sexual Abuse 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 about child sexual abuse, and where necessary, challenging colleagues to ask direct questions and not let child sexual abuse concerns be put aside owing to lack of proof.
Piloting the CSA Practice Leads Programme in adult substance misuse services
This pilot programme sought to develop 'Child Sexual Abuse Practice Leads' among professionals in adult substance misuse services. There are strong links between being sexually abused as a child and experiencing numerous physical, mental and emotional health difficulties as an adult. Experiencing child sexual abuse often has pervasive and enduring negative outcomes extending over the lifetime of a victim. Research with adult survivors of child sexual abuse has demonstrated frustration that, even in adulthood, services often don’t ask about whether they have experienced abuse.
This course was developed in conjunction with Change Grow Live (CGL) – a large, national charity which primarily supports adults with drug and/or alcohol dependency support needs. The Child Sexual Abuse Practice Leads Programme delivered at CGL comprised of two main strands: in-depth training for selected CGL staff over five one-day sessions, and support for these staff to apply their learning to their own practice and cascade that learning to their colleague’s teams and managers
This evaluation report provides strong evidence of the programme’s fit with an organisation like CGL and of the programme’s quality and value in enabling staff to take a proactive approach to child sexual abuse identification and response. Following training, the Child Sexual Abuse Practice Leads reported receiving an increased number of disclosures of child sexual abuse, including from people who had used the service for years and had not previously disclosed. This increase in disclosure followed substantial changes in practice due to the programme, not only in the Child Sexual Abuse Practice Leads themselves but also among the staff around them – who, by the end of the programme, were beginning to ask service users routinely about child sexual abuse.