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The Children’s Workforce across England is ill-equipped to meet the needs of child victims of online abuse

January 28, 2014

The Children’s Workforce across England is ill-equipped to meet the needs of child victims of online abuse  

The Marie Collins Foundation joined forces with Dr. Emma Bond and Stuart Agnew of University Campus Suffolk and Professor Andy Phippen of Plymouth University to undertake research to ascertain the need for a national programme of professional development and specialist training for those working with children harmed through the internet and related technologies. The following is a comparative summary of the findings of this research  

There is an increasing awareness of the prevalence of the sexual abuse of children online. Anecdotally, professionals from Children’s Services, Education, Health and Police have expressed concerns regarding their confidence and competence to cope with cases involving internet related abuse of children. The purpose of this survey was to ascertain how widespread these concerns were for professionals working within the children’s workforce. The findings from this research highlight the fact that in 2014 professionals feel ill equipped to meet the needs of children harmed online and recognise the urgent need for specialist training to enable them to safeguard and protect children and to assist in their recovery.

This national online survey was undertaken in the autumn of 2013. It was primarily sent to Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs), Primary Care Trusts and Local Education Authorities across England. The research aimed to ascertain the training requirements amongst professionals from the education, health and children’s services sectors* in relation to the assessment and intervention needs of children, and their families, who have been sexually abused and exploited online. Respondents to the survey were given the following as examples of online abuse and invited to report the nature of the cases that they had encountered – children made the subjects of child abuse images (CAI), grooming online, cybersex, children sold for sex on or offline, children of adults who download and/or distribute CAI, young people who download CAI, sexting.  

 It would appear that there is a dearth of understanding and professional expertise in relation to this particular area of child protection. The survey’s findings reflect that the professional response to children harmed online is ad hoc and does not represent current best practice. Those professionals who have received training  

The Marie Collins Foundation (MCF), a registered charity, was founded in 2011 by Tink Palmer with the aim of improving the professional response to the recovery needs of children abused via the internet and related mobile technologies. The foundation works in partnership with agencies and professionals to provide knowledge and skills to respond appropriately to this group of children – direct work with children and their families, training, consultancy, offering informed responses to media and lobbying for change are the additional services that the MCF provides.   

*A survey will be carried out in the near future regarding the training needs of those working in the criminal justice system – Police, CPS, Judiciary, Magistracy, Defending and Prosecuting Barristers and Solicitors relating to online abuse report that the training has generally been that of primary prevention – awareness raising to prevent abuse happening – rather than that of secondary and tertiary prevention - where there are concerns that a child may be at risk of abuse or has actually experienced abuse. These latter two categories require an ability on the part of the professionals to make informed risk assessments and offer intervention programmes to assist the child and family in their recovery. Such skills would appear to be currently lacking in the Children’s Workforce.  

The two most significant findings from the survey are  

1.      70% of the respondents from Health, Education and Children’s Services stated that they had not received training in online risk assessment and 96.5%  said they would value such training  

2.      81.1% of the respondents said they had received no training in assisting children in their recovery from online abuse and 94% stated that they would value such training.  

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“It is comforting to see that the Marie Collins Foundation is trying to address the issues of children harmed online and enabling front line practitioners to conduct work with children that is based on relevant research. I will be a regular visitor to the website and will be advertising the charity in the workshops I facilitate.”

Social worker, MCF training attendee

Marie Collins Foundation Partners