Social work awards celebrate unsung heroes

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.

girl looking sad

New forms of abuse are emerging

The world is changing, and so is the way sexual abuse happens.  We need our social workers to feel equipped to tackle new forms of abuse, such as internet grooming, trafficking, and ‘revenge porn’.

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. 

Protecting children from sexual abuse

We're committed to investing in services and research which shows how best to prevent sexual abuse and protect children from harm. 

We know effective support after sexual abuse can help prevent children becoming victims again, so we’re running the world's biggest randomised controlled trial study of a programme which aims to help children overcome trauma after sexual abuse. We're also pioneering a new way to assess adults who may pose a sexual risk to children, and working with young people who display sexually harmful behaviour towards their peers.

But the NSPCC’s spending power is a tiny drop in the ocean in comparison to £3.2bn public spending. 

What could we achieve if we, as a society, were willing to tip the balance and invest public money in stopping sexual abuse?