Social workers' knowledge and confidence when working with cases of child sexual abuse Research with social workers, managers and LSCB chairs exploring issues and challenges

Girl looking sadWorking with children affected by sexual abuse is complex and demanding. Social workers need to be confident they have the skills and knowledge to tackle emerging issues such as internet based abuse, grooming, trafficking or child sexual exploitation.

We commissioned Coventry University to undertake research in 6 local authorities in England. This report highlights issues around training, peer and managerial support and supervision, experience of managing cases and direct work with children. It makes recommendations for The College of Social Work, educators, employers and LSCBs.

Authors: L. Martin, G. Brady, J. Kwhali, S.J. Brown, S. Crowe, and G. Matouskova
Published: 2014

The research found that social workers’ confidence was dependent on a number of different factors:

  • social workers are generally more confident working with sexual abuse in the family, compared with cases involving internet based abuse, grooming, trafficking or child sexual exploitation
  • sexual abuse may be underreported or difficult to identify in situations where child neglect or other concerns are the primary reason for referral
  • adequate support is not always available to sexually abused children or their families once safeguarding actions have been taken and the case has been closed
  • regular support and supervision is important in developing social workers’ skills and confidence. Peer- and counselling-based support are key in managing the emotional impact of the work
  • training was variable in terms of availability, access, focus, format, quality and relevance to practice. Many social workers felt they had to ‘learn on the job.’

One of the report’s key recommendations is that:

  • the social work profession needs to be empowered to promote the overall well-being of the child during abuse investigations, even when criminal proceedings are taking place.
Acknowledgements 4
Abbreviations 5
Executive summary 6
Background 8
Methodology 10
Findings 12
Recommendations/best practice suggestions for change 27
References 31

Please cite as: Martin, L. et al. (2014) Social workers' knowledge and confidence when working with cases of child sexual abuse: what are the issues and challenges?. London: NSPCC.

Got a question?

Our Knowledge and Information Service answer over a thousand enquiries every year helping professionals find the information and resources they need to keep children safe.

Send us your enquiry

Related resources

Sexual abuse: a public health challenge

Review of the evidence looks at what we know about the causes, prevalence and consequences of sexual abuse.
Find out more

Facts and statistics

View the latest facts and statistics about child sexual abuse.

Find out more

Assessing the risk: protecting the child: evaluation report

Evaluation of whether an NSPCC assessment guide helps protect children from sexual abuse. Part of the NSPCC's Impact and evidence series.
Find out more

Breaking the wall of silence

Reveals the complexities involved in identifying and responding to the needs of children and young people who have been trafficked into and within the UK.
Find out more

Estimating the costs of child sexual abuse in the UK

Report using research literature to estimate the overall costs of child sexual abuse in the UK at £3.2bn in 2012.
Find out more

Qualitative study of children, young people and 'sexting'

Research with young people to discover how sexually explicit texts and images are produced, circulated and used through mobile phones and the internet.
Find out more

Letting the Future In

Letting the Future In helps children who have been sexually abused.
Letting the Future In service

Protect and Respect

For young people who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation or who have been sexually exploited.
Protect and Respect service

Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child

We assess and work with adults to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse.
Assessing the Risk service

Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status.
Read more about child sexual exploitation

Sexual abuse

A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This doesn't have to be physical contact, and it can happen online.
Read more about sexual abuse


Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know - a family member, friend or professional. 
Read more about grooming

Child trafficking

Child trafficking is a type of abuse where children are recruited, moved or transported and then exploited, forced to work or sold. 
Read more about child trafficking


Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

Sign up to CASPAR

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

How safe are our children? Growing up online

Our annual flagship conference is for everyone working in child protection.

Find out more

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

Sign up to New in the Library

Helping you keep children safe

Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

Read our guide (PDF)

Impact and evidence

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Training and consultancy

Grow your child protection knowledge and skills with CPD certified courses delivered by our experts nationwide and online.
Get expert training

Sharing knowledge to keep children safe

Read our guide to the NSPCC Knowledge and Information Service to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.

Read our guide (PDF)