The government has pledged an extra £40m to tackle child sexual abuse and revised an “unclear and out of date” definition of child sexual exploitation to improve multi-agency working.
Home secretary Amber Rudd yesterday announced £20m of funding for the National Crime Agency to tackle online exploitation and an additional £7m for organisations supporting victims.
Seven charities will receive £2.2m for projects protecting vulnerable children, including the creation of independent advocates to provide specialist support.
The advocate service will initially be established in Greater Manchester, Hampshire and Wales ahead of a national roll out.
A centre of expertise comprising a consortium of health, law enforcement and social care professionals will receive £7.5m until 2020 to provide information and guidance to those working on the frontline to protect children.
The government says the previous unclear definition of child sexual exploitation established in 2009 had led to agencies developing various alternative definitions.
This led to agencies using different definitions or using the terms ‘child sexual abuse’ and ‘children sexual exploitation’ interchangeably, which led to “ineffective multi-agency working, inconsistent risk assessments and poor data collection”.
Government advice for practitioners published in 2015 was said to have provided a “more simple and concise” definition but was inconsistently adopted in part because it was not included in statutory guidance.
The new definition will be finalised to take into account consultation responses and published in the ‘Working Together’ statutory guidance for people working with children.
Jenny Coles, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ young people policy committee, welcomed the extra investment and said the centre of excellence would provide a more formal way of gathering and sharing best practice.
She added: “But at the same time, we must also look to address the cultural, moral and social issues that sit at the heart of this abuse for example, the over sexualisation of children, young people and women in the media, as a matter of urgency and the centre should through its work also make a positive contribution in this area.”
Ms Coles said it was “crucial” that the revised definition of children sexual exploitation would be accessible to the public.
Richard Watts (Lab), chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, also welcomed further investment, but called on the government to address a projected £1.9bn funding gap in children’s services by 2020.
“While funding individual programmes of work is positive, a coordinated long-term strategy and funding to protect all children is vital,” he said.