What responsibilities do schools have to prevent CSE?
The Children’s Commissioner for England has recently published a report that looks into the current provision of education programmes that aim to prevent CSE. Here we take a look at the findings.
Schools and education professionals have a responsibility to ensure their pupils are safe from exploitation. By receiving the correct training, those that work with children can help prevent child sexual exploitation (CSE) in schools in England.
However, in addition to this, it is crucial that schools understand the responsibilities they have when it comes to preventing CSE.
The Children’s Commissioner for England has published a report titled ‘Protecting Children from Harm’. The report is a critical assessment of child sexual abuse (CSA) in the family network in England, examining the scale and nature of CSE and focusing specifically on sexual abuse that occurs within the family.
Findings from 1,093 primary and secondary schools across the country reveal that Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) is frequently highlighted as a crucial preventative measure in regards to sexual abuse and exploitation. While the majority of schools surveyed offered PSHE, roughly one in ten did not.
More than a third of primary schools and 15 per cent of secondary schools do not hold specific sessions with pupils to allow them to raise concerns.
Further to this, a substantial minority of schools do not have a safe/confidential/secure place where pupils can disclose abuse (34 per cent of primary schools and 16 per cent of secondary schools). Some 20 per cent of primary schools and 12 per cent of secondary schools do not have a designated person that pupils can go to if they have a concern.
The Children’s Commissioner concluded that only one in eight victims of CSA is estimated to come to the attention of statutory authorities, suggesting that the scale of CSE is much larger than is currently being dealt with by statutory and non-statutory services.
CSA in the family is estimated to account for two thirds of all cases, and the report found that sexual abuse by a family member or someone connected with the family is in itself a barrier to victims accessing help. This is often due to fear, coercion, loyalty, or a desire to protect other family members.
While there is a high level of commitment to tackling this problem among professionals working with children, statutory services are often largely disclosure-led, with the burden of responsibility placed on the victim. In addition to this, professionals are not always confident in their ability to identify CSA, with a fear that their actions will be construed as ‘leading the victim’. The report also found that victims of CSA in the family with learning/physical disabilities could be less likely to be identified as victims, as the signs of abuse may be misattributed to the disability.
According to the report: “The substantiation of a suspicion of sexual abuse requires different levels of proof in the family and criminal courts, though in practice, substantiating abuse ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in the criminal courts is a considerable challenge.
“There are three aspects to the impact of sexual abuse in the family – the impact of the sexual abuse itself, the reaction of the family, and the impact of service intervention.”
Summary in response to the report
As of September 2019, primary schools will be required to teach Relationships Education, and secondary schools will be required to teach Relationships and Sex Education. This decision was motivated by a recognition that all children need help to navigate the risks they face growing up, and that age appropriate universal education has an important role to play.
The report found that only half of primary schools taught topics relating to sexual abuse, with a significant minority of secondary schools not offering any teaching in this regard. Moving forward, it is important that all schools develop effective programmes that enable children to recognise abuse.
In order for schools to take the steps necessary to protect a child, they must create conditions that allow children to speak out if they are being abused. The research by the commissioner shows that education is important in enabling children to disclose if they have been sexually abused.
Guidance on safeguarding in schools should broaden the focus from the processes for reporting concerns to the ways in which school professionals can support children who are the subject of concern to disclosure abuse. According to the report, this includes a supporting and trusted relationship with the child over time and asking the child questions regarding their wellbeing.