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The government has taken the fight to tackle abuse and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults to a new level.

Additional funding, new structures and a culture of inter-agency and cross-boundary co-operation have been underpinned by the appointment of a newly-created post of Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation. And social workers have been highlighted as a critical element within this process.

In her first speech in the new ministerial role, Karen Bradley MP outlined the government’s plans to tackle abuse and exploitation – and address past failures – at the NSPCC’s How Safe Are Our Children conference earlier this summer.

In acknowledging the role of professionals and agencies, she stated: “Let’s celebrate and reward the police officer, youth worker, social worker, psychologist, teacher, or clinician, who builds trust, who asks questions, and acts on their suspicions.”

Protecting children is a priority

The ministerial post brings together for the first time Home Office responsibilities for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults from sexual violence, for tackling child trafficking and modern slavery, and for preventing violence against women and girls, under one ministerial portfolio. 

Mrs Bradley pledged that protecting children is a priority for this government. To improve prevention and protection, she stressed the importance of agencies working together to protect young people; of making it more difficult for those who want to abuse and exploit young people, whether online or in the community; supporting those who have experienced abuse; and a commitment to preventing child sexual abuse in the first place.

Robust support mechanisms

Children, young people and adult survivors of abuse appear more confident than ever before of coming forward to report their experiences to the police and social services.

However, the importance of robust support mechanisms, such as strengthening support to victims in the criminal justice system have been stressed.

The government is also working with internet companies to develop technology solutions which will make the internet a safer place for children and a more hostile environment for those who want to use it to exploit children.

Mrs Bradley acknowledged there have been issues and failures in the system in the past with agencies slow to respond to problems or identify signs. The government is now working with various agencies to establish how best to strengthen the measures in place to protect children from all forms of abuse and neglect, along with launching a whistleblowing hotline for professionals to help make sure the failures of the past never happen again.

Pivotal role for social workers

Steps to deliver an improved response include: creating a better culture of understanding in key professions of the signs of abuse; working across professional, organisational and cultural boundaries; and to tackle vulnerability, so that abuse is prevented wherever possible.

This government has pledged to do more to equip professionals and is establishing a new national Centre of Expertise to deliver better understanding of what works to prevent sexual abuse, how best to help victims, and how to work with perpetrators to prevent reoffending.

It is clear that social workers will play a pivotal role within these increased efforts to tackle abuse and exploitation in children.

Funding support

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