The Children’s Commissioner’s report ‘Protecting children from harm’ has recently been published. Taking over a year to research and produce it has brought to light that the scale of child sexual abuse is much larger than many working with children were aware. It is estimated that only 1 in 8 victims of sexual abuse comes to the attention of the statutory authorities. The Commissioner estimates that that child sexual abuse in the family environment comprises two thirds of all sexual abuse. Sexual abuse in the family is most likely to occur around the age of nine, a quarter of the cases involved a perpetrator under the age of 18 and the victims are more likely to be female.

The Commissioner recognises the high level of commitment across all services to deal with the problem but has found that many professional are not confident in their ability to identify child sexual abuse. Some professionals are hesitant to seek information from a child in case this can be construed as ‘leading the victim’ and encouraging a false or inaccurate account thus jeopardising the potential outcome of the criminal justice process.

The Commissioner details eleven recommendations overall with a heavy emphasis on all agencies working with children develop a co-ordinated approach to the identification of abuse and the support of the abused children. Further the report also calls for timely intervention to deal with young people with harmful sexual behaviour to ensure this behaviour does not carrying on into adulthood.

The recommendations for the role of schools include:

(i) That all schools equip all children with compulsory lessons for life, to understand healthy and safe relationships and talk to an appropriate adult if they are worried about abuse.

(ii) Schools to implement a whole school approach to child protection, where all school staff can identify the signs and symptoms of abuse, and are equipped with the knowledge and support to respond effectively to disclosure of abuse.

(iii) All teachers in all schools are trained and supported to understand the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. This should be part of initial teacher training and ongoing professional development.

If you are recently qualified do you feel that you have received adequate training to deal with this issue?

If you have been teaching for some time have you received updated training in this area?