Are we doing enough to support our social workers tackle the changing nature of sexual abuse? asks Sherry Malik
We’re all responsible for tackling child abuse – whether or not we're professionals. Sexual abuse alone costs the public purse £3.2bn a year - mostly in picking up the pieces after the event. The high profile Savile case is just one example of how it leaves a legacy that can scar people, families and communities for many years.
Social workers are at the forefront of this work to identify children at risk and heal those scars, and that's why I'm thrilled to support the Social Worker of the Year Awards in London this week.
We'll be celebrating the untold stories of success and hearing where things have gone right. I know from my 25 years as a social worker that there are plenty of unsung heroes who are doing brilliant work with children and families every day.
New NSPCC research this week reminds us there's more we can do collectively to support them do even more good work – and help keep our communities safer for all our children.
New forms of abuse are emerging
Research suggests as many as half a million children in Britain have been sexually abused, yet just 2,030 children were on child protection plans in England because of sexual abuse in 2013.
Could it be that some children and young people remain under the radar because some types of sexual abuse are not so 'visible' to social workers?
In recent years, a greater awareness has grown around sexual exploitation. It’s unthinkable now that grown men exchanging drugs, alcohol, money and gifts for sex with teenagers would be seen as a lifestyle choice for the young people involved. That's a huge step forward, but we have plenty more work to do to understand how best to tackle this and prevent it from happening – something we're working on through our Protect and Respect service.
Even for those children who known to social care services, the research suggests some social workers face the demanding task of responding to children's needs without the training they need.
Some social workers said they'd had little specific, in-depth training about sexual abuse during their qualifying social work education. Others were concerned that training didn't keep pace with the latest forms of sexual abuse.
Almost 1 in 7 frontline social work jobs are vacant
The emotional toll of prolonged exposure to children’s trauma is also highlighted in the report. Social workers need time to heal from the impact of this type of work. But busy schedules and heavy caseloads leave little time to build the emotional resilience they need to respond to the next child.
Is there any wonder almost 1 in 7 front line social work jobs are vacant? These are the people we rely on as a society to pick up the pieces in children’s lives – we owe them our support and thanks.