Agencies are failing to prevent child abuse

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The sexual abuse of children by family members is not being prevented or effectively tackled because local agencies are not able to keep them safe, says a new report.

Conducted by government inspectorates covering education, care and law enforcement, the report finds that agencies are often “woefully ill-equipped” when it comes to dealing with familial abuse. Both at local and national level, strategies to combat abuse are “virtually non-existent”. Criminal investigations are “ineffective”, meaning in some cases that children are left at risk, and the perpetrators of these crimes are not being brought to justice.

Abuse by family members is thought to account for around two-thirds of all child sex abuse, although under-reporting may mean that the true figure is significantly higher.

While progress has been made on addressing the “grooming” of children outside the home, familial abuse does not receive the attention it needs, the report says.

It finds that: criminal investigations are of a poor quality, with significant delays leading to children being left in potentially unsafe situations; where they exist, attempts to prevent abuse are too focussed on known offenders; there is little evidence of efforts to educate the public about child sex abuse in the family; too great a reliance is placed on children speaking out about abuse; and there is too much of an emphasis on police investigations, at the expense of children’s welfare.

 “Prevention is the best form of protection”, says Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman. “If we are to deal with incest or other abuse involving families or family friends, we must talk openly and honestly about the signs and symptoms – to protect children and to stop abusers in their tracks.”

Inspectors did discover examples of effective work in all areas, and initiatives that are working well, but these were too “piecemeal”; the report calls for a more strategic and consistent approach to effective intervention.

The multi-agency response to child sexual abuse in the family environment – published jointly by Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, Care Quality Commission and HMI Probation – can be found by searching at gov.uk

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