Child sexual abuse in the familial setting – the findings of the Governments joint targeted area inspections
On 4 February 2020, the outcome of a programme of joint targeted area inspections (JTAI’s), carried out by Ofsted, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, Care Quality Commission and Probation services were published.
The report described the findings of six JTAI’s between September 2018 and May 2019 which focused on the experiences of child sexual abuse in the family environment.
The investigative focus of the report was on four themes – prevention, identification, protection and support.
The overarching conclusion was that children at risk of, or being subjected to, sexual abuse in the family home were being left ‘repeatedly victimised’, with known victims lacking support, and unidentified perpetrators posing additional risk to children.
There are nine main conclusions of the report:
Sexual abuse within the family needs to be talked about
Currently, there is a systemic disbelief and denial where familial child sexual abuse is concerned, leading to a reluctance to talk about it, which reduces our capabilities in dealing with it.
Child sexual abuse within the family environment is not a high priority
At present, whilst child sexual exploitation remains high priority, these strategies are not being put in place to deal with familial child sexual abuse. As a result, workers are not equipped to deal with it or prevent it.
Professionals need better training and support
Whilst there were some pockets of good practice it is not consistent. There is a culture of limited focus on, and knowledge of, familial child sexual abuse.
There is a lack of preventative work
At present, the preventative work focuses too much around known sex offenders as opposed to preventing familial sexual abuse from otherwise unknown perpetrators.
Professionals rely too much on children to verbally disclose the abuse
Children are highly unlikely to verbally disclose sexual abuse. There needs to be a greater awareness by professionals of other signs and symptoms of sexual abuse within the family so it can be identified without the need for a verbal disclosure.
Where children display harmful sexual behaviour towards others, the focus is on their behaviour as opposed to the causes
Harmful sexual behaviour towards others by children is often the first sign that a child is being sexually abused. Too frequently, the cause of their behaviour is not investigated, and their needs as potential victims are not addressed.
Practice in this area is too often Police-led and not child-centred
There is a lack of professional challenge amongst agencies in relation to child sexual abuse in the family environment. Partnerships are not working together effectively to respond to familial child sexual abuse. There needs to be greater partnership between the Police, social work and health professionals.
The quality of criminal investigations into familial child sexual abuse is sometimes poor
There are failures to identify the extent of the abuse, and whether there may be any other victims. A lack of training in the Police often leads to suspected perpetrators being left in the community.
There is a lack of support for children and non-perpetrating family members
There are misconceptions around what support can be offered and when, for example whether therapeutic support is available during a Police investigation.
The conclusions of this report suggest that in the context of child sexual abuse in the familial environment, agencies are failing to work together to sufficiently protect children. In contrast, progress has been made in preventing and detecting child sexual exploitation. It appears that the lessons learned have not been transferred to child sexual abuse in the family home.
Possible ways of reducing the extent of child sexual abuse in the family environment include the following:
Greater government oversight and designated funds for all agencies to specifically target this issue.
Adopting a more coherent multi-agency approach between the Police, local authorities and other relevant bodies such as schools and healthcare professionals targeted at child sexual abuse in the family environment, so as to ensure adequate sharing of information to identify victims and children at risk at an early stage.
Training and education for professionals around recognising child sexual abuse specifically in the context of in the family home.
This training to include work to change attitudes regarding familial abuse, to encourage frontline workers to report any concerning behaviours to help identify victims at the earliest possible stage.
Greater public awareness of child sexual abuse in the family home, to encourage reports from members of the public.
Strategies implemented so that as soon as concerns are raised, the victim is protected, and an assessment is conducted to identify any other potential victims.
Developing procedures for ongoing support to victims and families in cases where a conviction is unsuccessful.
The agencies involved in this research are dedicated to helping vulnerable people in the UK. The report highlight weaknesses with the current approach to child sexual abuse in the family environment. The difficulty for the government and the agencies involved will be balancing individuals’ rights to privacy in their family life against the risks to children from familial sexual abuse, particularly where no explicit disclosures of abuse have been made.
Further commentary in the wake of this report is awaited with interest.
For more information, please contact Anna Churchill.