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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

K.2: Prioritising the protection of children

6. The effective protection of children from harm is an essential feature of a civilised society. Despite this, child sexual abuse occurs in many institutions, contexts and settings. The Inquiry’s work revealed physical violence as well as neglect and emotional harm that individually, or in combination, created an environment in which sexual abuse could take place. Many institutions did not respond effectively, or at all, to child sexual abuse. A number of examples did not involve finely balanced decisions but were cases where action was obviously necessary and often urgent but none was taken. Reputations tended to be valued above the interests of children.

Reforming the system for safeguarding and child protection

7. The legal and policy requirements for child protection and safeguarding are often complex. This complexity can lead to assumptions that every aspect of child protection and safeguarding is already covered by existing frameworks. That is not the case. An additional problem was the failure to implement and comply with the child protection arrangements that were in place.

8. The cornerstone of the system is multi-agency working. When child protection concerns arise, the relevant local authority has a statutory duty to make enquiries and decide whether to take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. The police are responsible for investigating allegations of criminal offences of child sexual abuse. If there is sufficient evidence to proceed and it is in the public interest to do so, the Crown Prosecution Service will authorise a prosecution. Nonetheless, despite successive policy initiatives to work better together, the statutory agencies have not always collaborated efficiently and effectively. On occasions, this has been marked by an absence of collective leadership by statutory agencies.

9. Scrutiny and inspection arrangements are also important features of the current system, with a number of organisations playing an important role in the oversight of child protection and regulation. Although there is a regime for thematic inspection of child protection across the statutory services, external and independent statutory scrutiny of child protection practice is in some ways fragmented. Inspection activity does not always identify poor practice, particularly given the necessarily wide-ranging nature of many inspections. Some private or voluntary institutions receive little, if any, independent assessment of their child protection practices.

10. The challenges are considerable and growing. As the UK recovers from the consequences of a worldwide pandemic and as the scale of online-facilitated child sexual abuse increases, those challenges are likely to last well into the future.

Child Protection Authorities for England and for Wales

11. Child protection must be given a much-needed and enhanced focus as well as a consistency of approach. It should not be subsumed into other areas of practice within institutions or be permitted to drift into institutional obscurity. There is a very real risk that unless there is long-lasting and focussed vigilance, institutions may continue or revert to poor practice and, worse still, actively downplay child sexual abuse. To address and respond to the complex challenges of child sexual abuse at local and national levels, the Inquiry recommends the establishment of independent Child Protection Authorities for England and for Wales.

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.

Introducing a cabinet Minister for Children

12. The introduction of the Child Protection Authorities should be coupled with the introduction of a cabinet Minister for Children, to provide a sharper focus on critical issues within government and the cohesive leadership, focus and influence needed. A minister at cabinet level would be able to work across government departments to enable the welfare of children to remain a high priority, bringing the diverse strands of policy development together and giving a voice to the child’s perspective.

13. To signify the importance attached to the effective leadership of child protection, the Inquiry therefore recommends that the UK government establish a Minister for Children with cabinet status. The position will cover a wide range of responsibilities for children’s welfare, including child protection, so that children’s safety and well-being receive the attention they deserve.

14. Given the ministerial arrangements in Wales, the Inquiry’s recommendation is couched differently, to provide an appropriate degree of flexibility in its implementation.

Recommendation 3: A cabinet Minister for Children

The UK government

The Inquiry recommends that the UK government creates a cabinet-level ministerial position for children.

The Welsh Government

The Inquiry recommends that the Welsh Government ensures that there is cabinet-level ministerial responsibility for children.

Attitudes to child sexual abuse

15. Alongside elevating the status of children in the political sphere, public awareness about child sexual abuse must be improved. Myths and stereotypes about child sexual abuse are still held by many. The Inquiry has seen recent examples of sexual abuse or exploitation being characterised as the result of children’s ‘lifestyle choices’. As a result, some children and young people have been given the impression that they were not believed to be worthy of protection, creating and perpetuating notions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ victims of child sexual abuse.

16. While child sexual abuse remains a difficult subject to discuss, it is important to bring those discussions into the public arena so that young people are well informed, and can navigate the risks of abusive and exploitative sexual relationships. While some – particularly professionals, such as youth workers – are well equipped to have these discussions, children and young people should feel able to raise these subjects more routinely with their families, teachers and peers. The Inquiry therefore recommends that there should be a wide-ranging programme to increase public awareness of child sexual abuse.

Recommendation 4: Public awareness

The Inquiry recommends that the UK government and the Welsh Government commission regular programmes of activity to increase public awareness about child sexual abuse and the action to take if child sexual abuse is happening or suspected in England and in Wales.

The programmes should:

  • challenge myths and stereotypes about child sexual abuse;
  • make maximum use of different approaches including, but not limited to, public information campaigns, the use of positive role models and creative media, such as television drama; and
  • be supported by continuous evaluation to measure their impact.
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