Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Final report

C.4: Child Protection Authorities for England and for Wales

29. In order to meet the rapidly changing environment and the sheer scale of child sexual abuse in England and Wales, the Inquiry recommends legislative reform to create a CPA for each country to provide a much-needed and enhanced focus and consistency of approach to the issue of child protection. The role of the CPAs should be to:

  • improve practice in child protection by institutions, including statutory agencies;
  • provide advice to government in relation to policy and reform to improve child protection, including through the publication of regular reports to Parliament and making recommendations; and
  • inspect institutions as it considers necessary.

30. The CPAs should be independent, constituted as a non-departmental public body in England and an arm’s length body in Wales, dedicated to child protection in relation to sexual and physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. As indicated earlier, it is impossible to isolate these harms given they are so interlinked: one of them so often is a warning sign of another. In addition to these functions, the CPAs would take on the substantial role of monitoring the implementation of the recommendations of this Inquiry.

Recommendation 2: Child Protection Authorities for England and for Wales

The Inquiry recommends that the UK government establishes a Child Protection Authority for England and the Welsh Government establishes a Child Protection Authority for Wales.

Each Authority’s purpose should be to:

  • improve practice in child protection;
  • provide advice and make recommendations to government in relation to child protection policy and reform to improve child protection; and
  • inspect institutions and settings as it considers necessary and proportionate.

The Child Protection Authorities in England and in Wales should also monitor the implementation of the Inquiry’s recommendations.

The improvement and advice role of the Child Protection Authority

31. Responsibility for monitoring and implementing institutional child protection lies with several statutory agencies and services, sector-specific inspectorates and government departments. In law enforcement, the National Crime Agency leads on online-facilitated child sexual abuse, but much of the operational work is carried out by the 43 police forces in England and Wales, each of which has objectives set by locally elected police and crime commissioners.[1] At a local level, in accordance with the Children and Social Work Act 2017, local authorities, health providers (clinical commissioning groups in England, and the local health boards and the NHS trusts in Wales) and the police are responsible for child protection policy, procedure and guidance.[2] Local authorities, as the corporate parent for children in care, also have a number of critical responsibilities for those children and for children in need.[3]

32. There are a range of potential responses when child sexual abuse is alleged or identified. Action may be taken against the perpetrator through the criminal justice system, disciplinary or regulatory sanction, local authority investigations and the family courts. Irrespective of criminal proceedings, an assessment of the risk of harm that a suspect might pose is a key part of the institutional response. In responding to a victim of child sexual abuse, the local authority, health services and family courts may become involved. Throughout its work, the Inquiry identified a lack of focus and rigour in the responses of a wide range of settings and institutions.

33. In order to drive improvement in child protection practices, many institutions require support and advice about appropriate responses where abuse is known or suspected. Although there is much that organisations can do themselves to improve those responses, there are measures that the government should take to assist, encourage and support them in doing so.

34. Current structures and practices often subsume child protection into the broader work of safeguarding. It is unhelpful that much of the formal literature and guidance about institutions’ responsibilities towards children conflates the two, as this detracts from a distinct focus on child protection. Ensuring good quality child protection across a diverse range of settings requires specialist knowledge, targeted intervention and constant vigilance. This work cannot be incidental to other objectives, and it cannot be sporadic or purely responsive.

35. As a result, the Inquiry considers that the CPAs should have a wide-ranging remit to enhance, extend and improve child protection in institutions and other contexts. Its activities should include:

  • promoting multi-agency working by statutory agencies;
  • providing high-quality advice to institutions on new and emerging forms of harm and how best they can be tackled in a multi-agency environment;
  • supporting local child protection arrangements by developing high-quality resources for practitioners;
  • providing regular reports of good practice to share at international and local levels;
  • providing advice to government policy development and proposed legislative reform on child protection; and
  • publishing reports, including to Parliament about the state of child protection, and the making of any recommendations for improvement.

36. The CPAs should serve as an authoritative repository of information. This should include information about regulation, guidance and best practice. The CPAs should also signpost other organisations which provide direct support on issues such as workforce regulation and training. For example, an individual who wished to establish an after-school group delivering religious education for young people might contact the CPA and receive advice about appropriate child protection policies. A designated safeguarding lead at a school might wish to seek advice about organisations that offer training.

37. The routine delivery of authoritative information and advice by an expert body would support improvement and increase consistency in child protection across diverse settings and institutions.

38. The CPAs will also be uniquely placed to help shape national child protection policy and strategy, and to advise the government. Where, as a result of its work, the CPA considers that there are legislative and regulatory changes that would strengthen institutional child protection, it should make recommendations directly to the Minister for Children or any other relevant minister and to Parliament or Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament.

The inspection powers of the Child Protection Authority

39. The primary responsibility for quality control and improvement in child protection lies with the organisation itself. Internal audits and reviews, whether provided by third parties or not, provided an accurate picture of child protection practice in some institutions but criticisms and recommendations were not always heeded. Lambeth Council, for example, produced many reports about child protection, including on child sexual abuse, but important recommendations were never implemented, leading to further reviews and audits which met with a similar fate.[4]

40. A principal purpose of external and independent inspection is to verify the quality of these organisations’ assessments of their own protection measures. As set out above, the inspection framework is complex. In several respects, it fails to provide an adequate model for the external scrutiny of child protection in institutions. First, it emphasises the wider remit of safeguarding rather than child protection, which requires a more targeted focus. Second, it does not have the necessary powers to inspect the broad range of organisations and settings in which children can be abused. Third, it does not scrutinise sufficiently regularly the multi-agency nature of child protection work.

Inspection and regulation

41. The different regimes in respect of inspection, regulation and workforce controls are often confused. It is easy to assume that where individuals who work in an institution or setting are ‘vetted’, this means that an institution is also ‘regulated’ and that its child protection practices are therefore subject to some form of external scrutiny or inspection. This is not always the case.

42. Children frequently spend time in less formal settings not subject to inspection. Examples include sports, drama or dance classes, after-school activities and religious education groups. Although individuals may be eligible for criminal background checks at their employer’s behest, that is not the same as the organisation being subject to checks of its child protection policies and practices through inspection. Almost every child in the country will spend time in one or more of these less formal settings. For some, it is a daily occurrence.

43. It would not be desirable or reasonable for the State to inspect every small and informal gathering of children. However, where concerns arise about an organisation or setting, there must be a mechanism for the procedures and policies in place to be scrutinised. Currently, there is not. Child sexual abuse has occurred in settings that were not subject to any inspections at all, making children vulnerable as a result. This is a failure that must be addressed.

Not sufficiently targeted at child protection

44. Inspection activity is not routinely targeted at child protection. In the context of schools there are limitations on an inspectorate’s ability to judge the adequacy of an institution’s approaches to child protection. For example, the Inquiry found instances where education inspectorates considered that an institution met or exceeded expectations of safeguarding only for it subsequently to come to light that children were being sexually abused at school or otherwise experiencing harm because of poor practice.[5] The current system of inspection may lead to false assurances about children’s safety. Where reports include positive comments about safeguarding or children’s feelings of safety, readers could be left with a false impression that the institution’s child protection practices have been rigorously examined. A ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted may lead to less oversight.[6]

45. Inspection activity covering a range of topics did not necessarily identify poor child protection practice. General inspections did not have the focus required to undertake detailed analysis. As the Inquiry identified, child abuse – particularly of a sexual nature – is often hidden from view, whether deliberately masked by other activity or through inertia.

Multi-agency focus

46. Statutory inspectorates are required to concentrate on specific sectors that make up the child protection and safeguarding system, targeting particular areas of interest or concern (for example, child sexual exploitation) and resulting in a narrative report about the work of local partnerships and agencies. Poor cooperation between frontline services has been a long-standing and frequent focus of criticism – for example in serious case reviews – and is an issue that often attracts recommendations for improvement.[7] It is important that these arrangements are subject to external scrutiny, including by the CPAs. Although there are arrangements in England and in Wales for joint thematic assessments of child protection, there is no standing ‘joint inspectorate’, despite the importance placed on multi-agency working in child protection.

47. Multi-agency inspections are important but do not take place with the regularity of single-agency inspections and do not receive the profile associated with single-agency inspections. Most schools, for example, will advertise a ‘good’ Ofsted inspection. However, little is known about the findings of multi-agency inspections of child protection, which do not attract the same profile in the public domain, despite their importance.

Inspection powers

48. The Inquiry therefore recommends that an expert inspectorate department is established within the CPAs in England and in Wales. The CPA should have powers to inspect multi-agency arrangements and individual institutions and settings. Expertise from other agencies might be seconded to assist when necessary.

49. Multi-agency inspection activity should be limited in the first instance to those areas most in need of independent scrutiny. It is important, however, that the CPAs hold leaders to account for multi-agency child protection practice. As the CPAs become more established, a regular and systematic inspection programme of multi-agency performance should become normal practice.

50. Institutions and settings which regularly come into contact with children but are not independently inspected should be subject to statutory inspection by a CPA when appropriate. Religious organisations are a good example of a sector where, had there been statutory inspections in the past, failings identified by the Inquiry might have been exposed.[8] The power to inspect such institutions should be used sparingly as the CPAs should be encouraging and supporting good practice. Nevertheless, in circumstances where the public interest demands intervention, the CPAs should have the power to conduct an independent, in-depth inspection, following up on any recommendations it makes with further inspection activity, if necessary.

51. The CPAs should have the power to inspect institutions and settings that are already inspected by statutory inspectorates. This power would be deployed on the rare occasions when the institution in question has persistently failed to respond effectively to previous inspection reports or the state of child protection was so poor that the public interest and concern demanded further scrutiny by an inspectorate unconnected to a particular sector.

52. It is not intended that the CPAs will have powers to regulate an institution by, for example, imposing a sanction for failure to implement improvements, though other bodies with appropriate powers could take action. This would not preclude the CPAs referring an institution to other bodies with appropriate regulatory functions. The public exposure of failings in any report is envisaged to be sufficient to bring about the necessary changes. In line with other statutory inspectorates, the CPAs should have the power to inspect documentation from any relevant institution and to enter premises.

53. The annual reports of the CPAs should be laid before Parliament. Other reports will be published and may be laid before Parliament. The CPAs will also make recommendations as appropriate.

Back to top