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With the National Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) having been given the green light, now’s a good time to reflect on how far things have progressed since the publication of ‘Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation’ back in March.

On the face of it, we’re witnessing a swift introduction of a number of measures to tackle CSE, but there are a couple of areas that will certainly remain ‘sticking-points’ for some time. 

If we take a look at how the report was broken down, it’s relatively clear which areas have progressed ahead of others.

A new task force and Centre of Expertise

Designed to support local areas that are struggling, the National Centre of Expertise on CSE was given the formal go-ahead only a matter of days ago (30th July). The University of Bedfordshire, which has already been awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research into CSE, will establish the centre in partnership with the Police.
The College of Policing announced that £500,000 is to be released from the Police Knowledge Fund to establish what it calls ‘a hub of expertise on child-centred police responses to young people at risk of or experiencing CSE’. 

The announcement of the centre comes just a month after the government declared the establishment of a child protection taskforce. It is intended to improve the way police, social services and other agencies approach child protection. This will ultimately touch upon recruitment of social workers and staff retention in the months and years to come. 

Child sexual abuse as a ‘national threat’

Under the Strategic Policing Requirement, child sexual abuse is now prioritised by every police force as a national threat, with CSE being identified as the 6th national strategic threat. 

Funding of CSE projects 

The government mentioned in its report that £7 million will be given to organisations to help support victims, with additional funding allocated to CSE as part of the Innovation Programme. Already, since the general election we’ve seen the government commit £4m to four projects within the programme to encourage better partnerships between councils and provide more options for children identified as being at risk. 

Whistle blowing

There’s not yet been a firm indication as to when we should expect to see the introduction of a whistle blowing online portal for child abuse related projects. When it was first talked about last year, the intention was to help bring CSE to light and spot patterns of failure. However, the government has been rather quiet about this of late. This is likely to be due to a multitude of factors, but it’ll almost certainly be something the newly created child protection taskforce will look at though in the coming months. 

Accountability and leadership

We’ve got until the autumn when we should find out more, but there’s likely to be a major announcement on the delivery of a new system of multi-agency inspections. It’s expected that it will reinforce the need for joint working at all levels. Our understanding is that there’s likelihood we could see the new inspection framework in place by April next year. 

Although we’re not sure exactly what form it will take, there is a push for organisations and social work professionals to be judged more for what they deliver on the ground than against defined action plans. 

There’s a lot more work yet to be done though as we’re yet to hear further news on making accountability clearer with regards to the ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ statutory guidance. What we are anticipating is much clearer guidance on what the local authorities’ overarching responsibilities are, which will have a direct impact on the roles of Director of Children’s Services and Lead Member for Children’s Services. The expectation is that the lines will be absolutely clear what the roles of other professional are (e.g. police, schools, healthcare).

Wilful neglect

Speaking at a conference on 17th June, Karen Bradley, minister for preventing abuse and exploitation, said that later in 2015 there will be a consultation on plans to expand the crime of wilful neglect to children’s social workers who fail to report abuse. 

The plans, which were unsurprisingly strongly opposed by the social work sector when first announced back in March, will almost certainly be contested during consultation. Whilst a lot more clarification is needed by the government, there are fears that the introduction of ‘wilful neglect’ could lead to a culture that favours reporting rather than acting. 

As the government edges closer to consulting on the issue, there’s an increasing demand for CSE-focused training courses. In fact, Social Work Trainer Robin Watts notes that these courses in particular are providing social workers with knowledge on how to acquire the right evidence for the assessment and how to initiate engagement with a family.  This is helping to facilitate positive dialogue under Working Together to Safeguard Children as it currently stands. 

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