Social workers need training to spot online abuse signs

28 July 2013

Social workers are not receiving the specialist training they need in spotting that children are being targeted online by sexual abusers.

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A survey commissioned by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the NSPCC reveals that half of all social workers questioned said they felt concerned about dealing with online sexual abuse or behaviour … with more than two thirds feeling they needed more support with child protection cases involving online abuse.

Other findings included:

• 49% said that 25% of their sexual abuse cases now involve some form of online abuse.
• 34% said they do not feel confident about understanding the language used by young people online.
• 47% said they were not knowledgeable about how young people communicate via social networking sites.
• 36% felt they did not know the right questions to ask to identify and assess online sexual abuse.
• 30% said they did not feel confident dealing with child protection sexual abuse cases using the internet.
• 50% say they do not know what how to recognise the signs of the online sexual abuse of children.

The survey also notes the following verbatim comments:

"We are way out of our depth and training measures are needed without delay."

"We need to know how the perpetrators can attract children, or vulnerable adults; for example, the last case I dealt with was using a site with Harry Potter on it. I do not know how the internet works."

"I work across various London local authorities and the understanding of online sexual abuse is sketchy. A UK training programme is necessary for qualified staff to ensure a uniformed approach so that perpetrators do not slip under the radar in some areas."

The association is backing the training tool Keeping Children Safe Online – an online programme developed by the NSPCC to educate child protection professionals about the potential risks to children of using the internet.

The BASW's professional officer Nushra Mansuri commented: “The number of cases in which the internet plays a part in the grooming and abuse of children is rising, and social workers need to be equipped to recognise the warning signs. Social work educators and employers must keep pace with new technology and training on the risks posed by social media should be an intrinsic part of learning.”

NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless said: “Keeping children safe from sexual abuse increasingly means protecting them from offenders who use technology to target their victims, such as grooming in chat rooms or online social networks. And vulnerable young people are now being coerced into sharing explicit images of themselves via mobile phone messages and apps. So it’s vital that social workers dealing with child sexual abuse cases understand these techniques and can talk to children about them."

Mr Wanless also observed: “It’s worrying that the majority of social workers surveyed by BASW are struggling to understand how online child abuse happens. We know they are doing a tough job under pressure and shouldn’t need to be technology experts but they do need to have a grasp of the basics. The NSPCC is developing an e-learning course in partnership with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) to help social workers get up to speed on this rapidly evolving world.”

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