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.

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