Today, the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) publishes its final report after a seven-year-long investigation into society’s failings towards children subjected to sexual abuse. I welcome this report as an opportunity to change the way we understand and respond to sexual abuse, as well as how we protect children from future harm. Most importantly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the thousands of victims and survivors who shared testimony with the Truth Project. It is crucial that Government truly listens and reflects, and takes real action to honour the stories which were bravely told. The report rightly argues that keeping children safe from sexual abuse is the responsibility of the whole of society, and one that has too often been neglected.
Children’s social care
The Inquiry has rightly highlighted that too often our children’s social care system is not doing enough to protect the most vulnerable children, and that children continue to be abused once they have come into care. A clear lesson that came from the brave testimony in the Truth project was how too often children’s voices are ignored or overlooked. This is not a historic issue, a series of recent serious case reviews demonstrate that children continue to be abused and neglected because they are not seen or heard within the care system. As Children’s Commissioner I have set out a series of reforms I believe are needed to give children voice and agency within the system, as part of this I am committed to reforming my own offer to children in care to ensure children in care can speak to someone genuinely independent when they need it.
Integrated local services
A consistent theme to emerge from Part 1 of the Family Review was that families fall between the gaps of services because they are too often fragmented, highly localised, and opaque due to the lack of coordination at a local level. I am now looking at how to improve the integration of local services and whether improved coordination among the relevant statutory bodies, including those responsible for safeguarding and child protection, would improve outcomes for children.
Support for victims of child sexual abuse (CSA)
Sadly, we are far from eradicating child sexual abuse – an estimated 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused according to the latest statistics. Whenever a child does experience sexual abuse and is brave enough to share details of their abuse, they must be heard, protected and supported to recover – both in the very immediate and long-term. Young victims need specialist support which tends to their specific needs and minimises the harm they have already endured. I welcome the recommendations which the Inquiry makes around increasing access to specialist therapeutic support for child sexual abuse victims, and for a thorough review of compliance with the Victims Code. I want to see the needs of child victims fully recognised within the Victim’s Bill, I have published my asks here.
Designing safer online spaces
The digital age has offered new, and previously inconceivable, ways for children to be harmed – both by adults and by other young people. After my commission from Government to look at this space, I have researched and spoken extensively about the risks presented to children by unregulated online environments. There are practical ways which online platforms can protect child users, which are highlighted by the Inquiry, including through use of effective age assurance, and state-of-the-art child sexual abuse material (CSAM) scanning technology. However, I am unconvinced that real action will be taken by tech firms without robust external oversight and regulation. This is why it is so crucial that the Online Safety Bill is passed, with children’s voices and experiences at its heart.
There is an urgent need to address the roots of past failures and to prevent them being repeated through future generations. I look forward to examining the report in more detail, and seeing how the recommendations can be put into practice to deliver the changes children need. In the meantime, as Children’s Commissioner I will continue to work to deliver for children who have been victims of child sexual abuse, to ensure their voices are heard.