Child victims of online abuse let down

Frontline professionals charged with supporting child victims of online sexual abuse say they are ill equipped to help them recover or to protect them

A survey of health, education and children’s services workers across England revealed a shocking black hole in the knowledge and capabilities of professionals to deal with the aftermath for children abused online.

In the study, 70% of the 692 respondents stated that they had not received training in online risk assessment. A worrying 81% said they had never had any training in helping children in their recovery from online abuse.More than half said they did not feel confident about helping children who had experienced harm or abuse online.

Researchers at University Campus Suffolk and Plymouth University carried out the study for Marie Collins Foundation, a charity dedicated to improving services for children abused online. The results show that as technology has moved on apace, and perpetrators have become more ingenious in their engagement with vulnerable children online, training for professionals has not kept up. 

Tink Palmer, founder and chief executive of Marie Collins Foundation, said: “The results of this research have confirmed our fears: that there is a dearth of understanding and professional expertise in relation to the recovery needs and future safeguarding of children abused online.

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“In the UK and internationally the response to the needs of children and their families is, at best, ad hoc. Professionals lack confidence in assisting children in their recovery and it is apparent that this is due to a lack of adequate training. Currently, many professionals are attempting to deal with cases for which they are not equipped.”

The charity is now calling for a national programme of professional development and specialist training to meet the needs of children who have suffered harm via digital technologies.

“We have to develop much more widespread expertise in assisting recovery so those who have been abused can recover and life safe and fulfilling lives,” said Palmer.

The professionals who took part in the survey included school nurses, health visitors and paediatricians, social workers, child protection advisors, family and education welfare officers, teachers and learning support assistants. 

Some cases quoted involved children with developmental difficulties or learning disabilities, while a large number reported a general lack of understanding among young people about accepting others at face value and about how pictures they post online might be spread.

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