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Recommendations for Change podcast transcripts

Topics: Child sexual abuse and CSE Sexual abuse
About the podcast

Recommendations for Change is a five-part podcast series exploring the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) final recommendations and what they mean for professionals working with children.

On this page, you can read the transcripts for each episode of the series.


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1. An Introduction to IICSA

Please note this podcast contains mention of child sexual abuse.

In 2015, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up to investigate where institutions failed to protect children in their care. The Inquiry's final report, published in October 2022, laid out a set of powerful recommendations to address past failings and protect future generations of children from abuse.

Recommendations for Change is a five-part podcast series from NSPCC Learning, examining why these recommendations are needed, how they'll work if implemented, and what impact they will have on the prevention of child sexual abuse. Episode one: an introduction to IICSA.

Child sexual abuse, abbreviated to CSA, is when a child is forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This may involve physical contact or non-contact activities and can happen online or offline. Experiencing sexual abuse can have a long lasting negative impact on a child's well-being that can reach into adulthood.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, commonly abbreviated to IICSA, was a comprehensive examination of institutional failings to protect children from this kind of abuse.

You're probably listening to this podcast in 2024. Over a year has passed since the inquiry published its final report. Although the work of the inquiry has now been completed, the work of the NSPCC and other child protection organisations continues. We want to ensure that IICSA is not a wasted opportunity for the change that is needed to protect children from future harm, and that the recommendations do lead to improvements in the safeguarding systems across the UK.

In this podcast series, we'll be speaking with a range of experts from both inside and outside of the NSPCC, who will break down why the recommendations are needed, what problems they seek to address and how they might work if implemented. But first, let's learn more about how the inquiry was set up. Here's Peter Wanless, the NSPCC's Chief Executive, with a brief overview.

Peter Wanless:
There were a cluster of very high-profile stories about terrible things that had happened in terms of child sexual abuse in and around a number of institutions, and this culminated in determination at the highest level to understand what it was that had been going on and what lessons might be learnt for the future.

So, Theresa May, who was then the Home Secretary, announced that there would be this public inquiry, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, to consider the extent to which state and non-state institutions had failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation; to consider the extent to which those failings had since been addressed; to identify further action that was needed to address any failings that were identified; and to consider what steps it would be necessary for the state and non-state institutions to take in order to protect children from such abuse in the future.

So it was a massive undertaking and an important one to which many people were compelled under legal oath to submit material and to give witness statements in order to investigate these child protection failures and to determine what should be done next.

What did the NSPCC do to support the work of the inquiry?

Peter Wanless:
So, across the entirety of the inquiry, the NSPCC submitted a great deal of information. Formally, evidence was sought from us for nine of the investigations, which included investigations into residential schools, the internet, religious organisations and child exploitation.

So, we provided witness statements, we offered data from our helplines, we searched our records, we produced briefing papers, and NSPCC staff gave evidence at the public hearings.

And I remember very clearly giving evidence myself, as the NSPCC chief executive, in December 2020, in relation to the work that IICSA was doing to understand what effective leadership looked like in this space.

What was that experience like?

Peter Wanless:
Yeah, there's nothing quite like giving evidence under oath to concentrate the mind. I gave my evidence during the lockdown. I remember vividly receiving a secure laptop and all the technology necessary to establish a secure link between myself and those who were interrogating me as a part of this inquiry. It was... It was a privilege. And it was a really important thing to do at that moment in time.

But for me, it also really clarified and reminded for me, as a leader of a significant organisation, what it really means to put safeguarding and child protection absolutely at the centre of one's organisation, not just in terms of policies and procedures, but also in terms of culture and setting that priority and expectation. So, the very experience of giving evidence personally, I think, changed for me the priority and the focus that I placed on this issue. And I say that in the context of an organisation that spends its entire time focused about and thinking on issues to do with child protection. So we are all learning all the time and need to be vigilant when it comes to keeping children safe.

And finally, for you, what are the most important learnings that we can take away from the IICSA final report?

Peter Wanless:
When IICSA published its final report, there were 20 interlocking recommendations which, taken together, would constitute a step change in the nation's ability to prevent the sexual abuse of children. These are all important recommendations, and one of the risks that we now face in terms of implementing the report is that, the government picks and chooses certain recommendations that are perhaps easier to implement than others, and taking things forward in a partial and incoherent way will not achieve the ambition for positive change that the inquiry set out.

For me, it's important that we understand the knowledge and understanding and appreciation of what child sexual abuse looks like. The consistency with which that abuse is reported is important. The roles and accountabilities and the skills that those who the reports are made to; that's important. The remedial therapeutic support for those who have experienced child sexual abuse; that's really important. The data, the way in which we know and understand the nature and the scale of the problem; that's important. And it's the combination of these things together that will achieve, for me, the three critical changes which we need to see.

The first of those is there needs to be a step change in the policy environment and the resourcing and support which government gives to our child protection system and the wider knowledge and understanding of what needs to be done to keep children safe.

The second piece is that many, many more institutions — I include the NSPCC in that — but all of us can play a part in being vigilant, in knowing and understanding how our safeguarding arrangements are ever alert to the vital importance of preventing the abuse of children.

And thirdly, the inquiry did a brilliant job of put in the voices on the perspectives of victims and survivors themselves front and centre in these debates and discussions. And so, I believe we owe it to the thousands of them who had the courage to contribute to this inquiry to ensure there's a decisive and coherent response to the recommendations that the inquiry has made. And that is not proving to be entirely straightforward.

So, there are many of us, institutions and individuals, who want to continue to bang the drum and remind government institutions, organisations, the wider public, that there's a job to be done to keep children safer from child sexual abuse than may be the case at the moment. We can all play a part in that. Government needs to give a lead, and we must continue to listen very carefully to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse themselves, including young people who, sadly, are experiencing these crimes against them today.

As Peter says, victims and survivors of child sexual abuse played a key role in informing the work of the inquiry. To ensure their needs and voices were represented in their work, IICSA set up the victims and survivors consultative panel, or VSCP.

The VSCP provided input across all areas of IICSA's work. They were instrumental in establishing IICSA's Truth Project, which gave over 6,200 victims and survivors the opportunity to share their experiences of child sexual abuse with the inquiry. The first section of the IICSA final report contains anonymised extracts from these testimonies, and we advise listeners to read these to get a full understanding of the devastating impact of CSA on victims and survivors.

By speaking publicly about their experiences, members of the VSCP and the Truth Project elevated public awareness of child sexual abuse. However, IICSA identified that there is still more work to be done to empower conversation around the issue. Recommendation four of the IICSA final report advises that the UK government and the Welsh government commission regular programmes of activity to increase public awareness about child sexual abuse and how to respond to it.

For this podcast series, I spoke to Lisa McCrindle, Assistant Director for Policy, Communications and Strategic Influence at the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, the CSA Centre. During our conversation, she explained why it's so important that we continue to confront the difficult topic of child sexual abuse.

Lisa McCrindle:
So I think it's really important because it's something we'd rather wasn't happening and we'd rather not talk about it. And the reality is that far more children are being sexually abused than that come to the attention of services as the all of those — I think there were only over 6,000 submissions to the Truth Project — most of them hadn't told anybody until they were adults or much later in life. They certainly didn't get the support they needed at the time that that harm was happening.

And what contributes to that is this general sense of, you know, understandably, child sexual abuse is not a nice thing to think about. It's not something pleasant. And we'd rather it wasn't happening. So if we're going to tackle it and if we're going to address those things that make us feel uncomfortable, we need to be getting more comfortable at talking about it. We need to be less worried about talking about it and feeling more able to have those conversations and tackle those difficult issues that we might otherwise want to shy away from.

I think it's really important that those conversations are continually happening. I think... And in many ways, an awful lot of people across the country will never have heard about the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It won't have been on their radar. They might have seen something in the press, but the IICSA inquiry probably doesn't mean a great deal to most people if you talk to them on the street. But what it did do, and through the continuous investigations that came out during the whole of the inquiry and the report, is continually give us new insights and new understandings around the nature of that harm that had been happening and why those things hadn't been identified and where the failings need to be addressed. So that was continually bringing that to the fore.

And what that's really important for is one, it keeps it front and foremost in terms of policy and practitioners and people that are making decisions about how do we respond to this in day-to-day life. But it's really important for victims and survivors to hear that their experiences aren't in the shadows and their experiences are acknowledged. For me, there's a really tangible impact that that has. Before I came to work at the CSA Centre, I worked at the NSPCC, and while I was working there, the scandal about the sexual abuse of boys in major football clubs came to light and the NSPCC set up a helpline in response to that. Now, immediately after that reporting of that case, there was literally thousands of calls that came into that helpline from a whole range of young people who had been — well, adults and children — who had been harmed in sport settings and other settings like that. But they'd not felt able to have their abuse acknowledged before because it hadn't been talked about. And I think it's really important that we talk about the different ways in which this abuse does happen to people, because that gives confidence, it validates.

Everything that happens to victims tells them that maybe they're imagining it, or they have a fault in it, or they have some responsibility for it. And all of these things are silencing. And what we do when we talk about sexual abuse is we strip that power of that silence away. IICSA was really important in doing that over a period of time, and it's really important that those organisations that have been involved in it and have a role to play continue to have that conversation.

At the NSPCC, we believe everyone needs to be aware of the IICSA findings, but particularly anyone working or volunteering with children and young people. Many of the recommendations in the final report will directly affect safeguarding professionals and the work they do, as the NSPCC's Director of Strategy and Knowledge, Maria Neophytou, explains here.

Maria Neophytou:
A central tenet of the NSPCC's strategy is that we are all responsible for keeping children safe. The work of IICSA is, of course, particularly important for professionals working and volunteering with children, and understanding the findings is helpful in that professionals are in a unique position to recognise the signs of abuse and take action to prevent it. IICSA's findings also demonstrate that we need wholesale change in how child sexual abuse is tackled, and safeguarding professionals will play a crucial role in driving these changes.

Some of those recommendations will directly affect the work of safeguarding professionals. So, for example, there were recommendations and proposals around mandatory reporting, around systemic changes like the creation of child protection authorities and ministers and strategies for children in England and Wales.

As well as those systemic changes that are proposed, the report itself is a body of knowledge that is very useful for safeguarding professionals to be aware of and delve into. It's a vital evidence base for practitioners who are involved in safeguarding decisions. For instance, in the first part of the report, victims and survivors of child sexual abuse describe their experiences in their own words, and these powerful testimonies are critical for professionals to understand the experiences that victims and survivors had, the impact that it had, and the nature of the response.

The inquiry published 24 research reports on a range of topics, including support services, online-facilitated abuse, schools, children's homes and residential care, and custodial settings. And it also published statistical reports on a quarterly basis until the first quarter of 2022. So, as a body of evidence, it's unparalleled in its scope and its relevance to everyday practice and safeguarding.

Ultimately, the recommendations from IICSA should provide the foundation for a robust safeguarding system that protects children from abuse, and the NSPCC will, of course, continue to call for the implementation of the recommendations, the strengthening of preventative measures, more therapeutic and support services for children, and a more coherent and systemic response from government and all those in positions of decision-making and positions in child protection.

As Maria says, professionals working with children and young people have a crucial role to play in preventing abuse and neglect. I asked Lisa McCrindle what advice she would offer professionals on how they can improve their ability to identify and respond to CSA.

Lisa McCrindle:
At the CSA Centre we pretty much always start with the 101. So, this isn't about complex, deep knowledge about sexual abuse. You don't need to be an expert in child sexual abuse. Most of the professionals we're talking about, their job is to work with children and to understand children. What prevents really good practice in response to child sexual abuse is often just feeling uncomfortable about sexual abuse and worrying about it.

So, the first thing that professionals can do is to get comfortable with talking about sexual abuse, to understand child sexual abuse more, to understand that it is much more common than they will think. There is often this idea that it's quite rare, but what the data tells us from surveys with children and with adults, is that child sexual abuse is just as common as emotional abuse and domestic abuse and neglect. So, you know, we should be expecting to see that just as much as we're seeing those other forms of harm.

And yet, what we do find in service data is that far less sexual abuse is identified. And that's what we see coming through in the Truth Project, with so many of those victims and survivors whose harm was never identified while they were children, and they go on to experience that in silencel.

So, in terms of what can professionals do: number one, familiarise yourself with an understanding about child sexual abuse. Be aware that it's much more common than you may think. So, we would expect that 1 in 10 children by the age of 16 will have experienced some form of child sexual abuse.

Then the next thing that what we find that prevents professionals addressing child sexual abuse is feeling uncomfortable talking about it and talking to children about their concerns. So again, getting comfortable with that, thinking about how you would have those conversations, potentially even with your colleagues practising those conversations. How would you do that and how are you going to respond if a child does give you either a direct indication that something's happening or perhaps an indirect indication that something's happening and you need to respond to that?

I would say that you don't need to do that on your own. There are lots of resources out there to support professionals in doing that. And when I say professionals, again, I'm talking about all of those different professionals that work with children. What we do know is that children are more likely to be confiding in people that they know and trust. So, those individuals that have a trusted relationship with children are much more likely to be the ones that can identify concerns in the child's behaviour, in the behaviour of those around them, but can also then maybe be the people that children will be able to tell if they support them to do so.

We have resources available for that. In terms of understanding, our key messages from research series are really, really succinct summaries of the research evidence around a whole different range of aspects of child sexual abuse they are completely readable with a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, with your elevenses as a professional, and you could get the key bits of information that just gives you the knowledge and the confidence.

We then have a series of practice resources that help professionals to understand the signs and indicators of sexual abuse, to think about how they would communicate with children about sexual abuse. So, understanding what are the barriers that prevent children from talking about it, and how can they, as professionals, support children?

We have resources around supporting parents and carers. As I said, parents and carers are really the key to supporting children. They spend the most time with them and they're going to have the biggest impact on child's recovery. So, really important to support parents and carers. So, there is lots of information out there in terms of the resources available as well as the training that we offer at the CSA Centre. 

At the NSPCC, we recognise that the work of professionals involved in safeguarding can be challenging, and we will continue to strive to provide you with the support you need to best protect children. Here's Peter Wanless once more.

Peter Wanless:
My message to those people who are working directly and indirectly with children who are at risk of child sexual abuse, or who have experienced that, is: thank you for everything which you do to help these children. It's much more difficult than it might be as a consequence of so many of you working in a system that can feel dysfunctional, disconnected, insufficiently resourced and supported, and with many people around you having multiple priorities that don't always seem to put the victims and the potential victims of child sexual abuse front and centre. I acknowledge that. The inquiry acknowledges that and sets out an ambitious agenda for positive change. So, in the hurly-burly and pressures of those of you who work with children continuing to do that vitally important work, when it sometimes feels against the odds, be assured that there are many of us who are going to continue to press for and argue the case for decisive change to secure a better organised, resourced and supported national approach to keeping children safe from child sexual abuse.

Thanks to Maria Neophytou, Lisa McCrindle and Peter Wanless.

You can find a link to the CSA Centre's key messages from research series, as well as other resources around recognising and responding to child sexual abuse, in the podcast show notes.

In the next episode of Recommendations for Change, we'll be looking at the importance of data to child protection. How does gathering and analysing data help us to effectively respond to child sexual abuse?

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this podcast, you can reach out to the NSPCC Helpline for support. Call 0808 800 5000 or email

This podcast series was produced in Autumn 2023. All information was correct at the time of recording, but the world of child protection is ever-changing. To stay up to date, visit the NSPCC Learning website at

2. The importance of data

Please note this podcast contains mention of child sexual abuse.

In 2015, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up to investigate where institutions failed to protect children in their care. The inquiry's final report, published in October 2022, laid out a set of powerful recommendations to address past failings and protect future generations of children from abuse.

Recommendations for Change is a five-part podcast series from NSPCC Learning examining why these recommendations are needed, how they'll work if implemented, and what impact they will have on the prevention of child sexual abuse.

Episode two: the importance of data.

Gathering and analysing data plays a key role in understanding the extent of child sexual abuse and exploitation. The IICSA final report suggests one of the reasons that the true scale of child sexual abuse in the UK is not fully understood is poor data collection.

The report describes the available data as presenting a, quote, "confused and confusing picture". There is "no consistent approach to the recording of data, including by key statutory agencies such as the police and local authorities" And without this clear data, it is hard to effectively prevent and respond to abuse.

The final IICSA recommendations seek to remedy these shortcomings by suggesting the creation of a single core data set, and it's this recommendation that we'll be exploring in more detail in this podcast.

To begin, it's important to consider what the existing data and evidence is telling us about the scale of child sexual abuse in the UK. I put this question to Lisa McCrindle, Assistant Director for Policy, Communications and Strategic Influence at the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, the CSA Centre.

Lisa McCrindle:
The headline statement to remember is that far more children are sexually abused than we're currently identifying. So we estimate from survey data — and it's a range of different robust survey data — that indicates to us that more than 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by the age of 16. That percentage is much higher for girls than boys, so 15% of girls and 5% of boys. There is likely to be some underreporting within the boys there, but also likely to be overall more abuse of girls in that context. But, as a general, kind of, headline: more than 1 in 10 children by the age of 16 would experience some form of sexual abuse. So that's really important to remember.

What's really important to remember is that the vast majority of those children, their harm won't be identified in childhood and they won't necessarily be able to tell anybody. We need to move away from this expectation that children will tell us and will be able to tell us — there are so many barriers that prevent them from doing that — and we as professionals across a whole range of sectors need to be more proactive in identifying our concerns and responding to them.

So what we do see from the data available to us is that pretty much every year around half a million children will be sexually abused in England and Wales. So it's a huge number of children that are experiencing this harm each year. And what we're identifying is a really small proportion; we refer to it as the tip of the iceberg in terms of the children that come to the attention of services. Of that half a million children, around 2,700 children will end up on a child protection plan for sexual abuse in England and Wales. In England, about 50,000 children will be assessed as at risk of sexual abuse. And then in England and Wales, about 100,000 children... well offences will be recorded that are child sexual abuse offences. So really, across all the measures, we're identifying far less than that that is actually happening.

Although far more children are being sexually abused than we're identifying, we do know that sexual abuse is just as common as other forms of childhood abuse. So the survey, again, survey data shows us that we have really similar levels of child abuse across emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. And yet in terms of identifying that and responding to it through plans and assessments, sexual abuse is really, really low in comparison to that. And we need to ask ourselves why is that? What we do know is it's not because there's less of it, it's because we're identifying less of it. And what are the barriers that are preventing professionals from doing that?

In the last year's data, we did start to see a slight increase in the number of assessments of children being at risk, for child sexual abuse. So perhaps we're seeing, I guess what we might see is kind of green shoots from all the efforts to continually talk about child sexual abuse and focus on child sexual abuse, starting to see that come through in more assessments. So there are indications that we can make that progress.

And what we see from other areas is that where professionals feel confident, where they have the training, where they recognise that their locality expects these numbers to go up and recognises that we should be finding more of these children, and responding to more sexual abuse, And where we know that there are services available to support those children and their families, we do see an increase in identification of concerns. So what we do know is that talking about this, supporting professionals, providing services, means that we are getting— we can get better at identifying and responding to children that have been sexually abused.

I think the other really key thing to say about what do we know about the scale of child sexual abuse is it varies in terms of our response. So, our response varies massively across the country. So, where you live really does matter in terms of whether your locality, whether that's children services or whether it's criminal justice, is likely to be identifying and responding to child sexual abuse. So again, that consistency of experiences is really important, and what we need to look at as services is how do we get better consistency in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse.

You've highlighted there the level of insights that we can already get from the data. How can this data be used by professionals to improve the response to child sexual abuse?

Lisa McCrindle:
When we're talking about this to strategic leaders in localities, to managers and to frontline service professionals, is what this data should help us to do is to ask questions of our services.

It should help us to ask questions around, well, would we expect this number to be higher or lower? Has this number increased or decreased? And why do we think that has happened? Did we do something or stop doing something? So have we got better at our training and are we seeing that result in better identification? Have we stopped delivering a service and that's meant that we're not in contact with particular groups of children? Are we seeing some children identified more than other children? And therefore, do we need to look at what our training is telling us about identifying and meeting the needs of particular groups of children? So really, I think the data is so important because it gives us a sense of how well are we identifying and responding to children that have been sexually abused.

But then it should be pushing us to ask more questions. So what do we and don't we know as a result of this data and where could we find more information out? At the CSA Centre we publish every year a trends in data update. So, we look at the latest data and what those trends are telling us. That's the available public data that's available nationally. Local areas and local agencies can dig into their own data and do much more analysis and and really unpick. They could do a data audit and they could do a snapshot and pull out some files and really start to unpick and understand their data. So while it might sound a little dry, it's incredibly important to helping us understand the experience of victims and survivors.

Survey data tells us about who is being harmed, what context is that harm happening in, at what age are children being harmed and whether they had a response or not to that? But then, service response data is telling us about how are we actively picking up and responding to this. And so I think data is incredibly important in helping us understand and respond to child sexual abuse and it should be driving us to ask questions and make better decisions.

And thinking about services for victims and survivors. The IICSA report says "public agencies rely on accurate and detailed data to make the best strategic and operational responses for the protection of children."

What does the current landscape of support services look like in the UK, and how can we use data to improve the availability of these services?

Lisa McCrindle:
The response that we provide to child sexual abuse, it doesn't fall within one particular service's responsibility or one particular agency. It's not just the responsibility of criminal justice. It's not just the responsibility of social work or health. Victims of child sexual abuse need help from a whole range of different places, and that help will change that they need.

So, the support that victims and survivors might need, and their families might need, if they've been sexually abused will be dependent on what's going on for them at the time, how old are they, what the arrangements are around, you know, if they're children, if they're being removed from the family or if they're able to stay with family members. But what impact is all of this happening? Are they going through criminal justice processes that will require a different support service to maybe if they, you know, are perhaps moving forward and getting older and maybe experiencing adolescence or their first relationships or moving into adulthood, perhaps having their first personal relationships or serious relationships, maybe even going on to have their own children. All of these things will present different needs at different times during the lifetime of somebody that has experienced and been sexually abused.

It's really important that we understand that services aren't a single thing. There isn't one service that one agency can commission that is going to solve the response that victims and survivors need. So I think that's a really important thing for us to understand: that services aren't homogenous, and our need for services will vary and differ over a victim and survivors' lifetime.

In terms of the current landscape, what's been really difficult is that all these services will need to be delivered by different agencies — so criminal justice agencies might fund and commission independent, sexual violence advisors or victim support services for criminal justice processes. We also need really good mental health support for children and that would be commissioned by the health teams. And we also need social workers that are trained and responsive and understand the different context of child sexual abuse. So all of these different services come from different places. So it's really difficult for us to look at, well, where all these services and what's available? And obviously all of those are commissioned differently across the country.

That sounds like you're letting it off and it's just really difficult and hard to do, but, that doesn't mean that that needs to be the case. And I think there are organisations and there are individuals who have responsibility for making sure that these services are available and what we really need to see — and there are opportunities to do this in upcoming legislation — is how do we build in those expectations and duties to deliver services and make sure that there is the breadth of service available, but also, how do we make sure that we hold people to account on those duties? So there are key strategic leaders and strategic organisations that have responsibility for commissioning those core services, whether that's through integrated care boards or through police and crime commissioners.

But how are we setting expectations that a locality will ensure there is a breadth of services that meets the needs of victims and survivors in their locality, and that those services are being delivered and are accessible to those children and their families. So there's key bits to that — it's a big question really — like what are the services we need? Well, actually they're wide and varied. They need to meet the needs of children, they need to meet the needs of adults, and they need to meet the needs of the families of children as well, because we know that supporting families is one of the key things we can do to best support children that have been sexually abused. But then we need to make sure those services are there and we need to make sure that there is accountability on delivering those services.

So, more broadly, thinking about the current landscape, some work was done a number of years ago to try and map what the current landscape of services was. Recently, the CSA Centre has been undertaking an update of that work, so we've been working to to map what we do know about services. And in coming months we'll be publishing that work, which I think will be incredibly valuable, valuable to us in terms of what do we know about the current service provision, be really valuable to commissioners in terms of understanding where there is maybe more service offer and where there is less service offer, what types of services are we delivering more of in which we're delivering less of?

And that piece of research is available on the CSA Centre's website, and we'll put a link in the podcast show notes.

Let's turn our attention now to the data recommendation proposed by IICSA. Recommendation one of the IICSA final report proposes the creation of a single core data set covering both England and Wales to improve data being collected by children's social care and criminal justice agencies concerning child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation.

The recommendation suggests that these agencies produce consistent and compatible data, which includes the characteristics of victims and alleged abusers such as age, sex and ethnicity, and factors that make victims more vulnerable to abuse or exploitation. It should also say where the child sexual abuse and exploitation happened and the context in which it happened.

To learn more about how IICSA's recommendation would improve public agencies' approach to data collection, I spoke to Kelly Agudelo.

Kelly Agudelo:
Hello, I'm Kelly Agudelo. I am Head of Analysis within the Vulnerability Knowledge Practice Program, VKPP. The VKPP are a body or organisation which tries to improve the policing response of vulnerability. We also have responsibility for national analysis of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

I began by asking Kelly how data collection currently works within the police force.

Kelly Agudelo:
So since 2015, policing has had a network of regional child sexual abuse and exploitation analysts, and this comprises of one analyst per policing region and we have ten policing regions across England and Wales. And the role of that network is to provide the analysis on child sexual abuse and exploitation on a regional level, which then feeds into a national picture so that we can understand actually what is going on within CSA/E across England and Wales. So that's actually been in existence for eight years now.

Over the past few years we've been working towards achieving that single core data set or what we call the 'totality of police recorded child sexual abuse and exploitation crimes'. We produce on a quarterly basis, an analytical document looking at the scale and nature of police recorded child sexual abuse and exploitation across England and Wales.

And that allows us to identify, as I say, the scale of child sexual abuse that's being reported and the nature of it. So breaking things down, like, the type of child sexual abuse and exploitation, who our victim survivors are, who the perpetrators are, and also looking at things like how recent the offending has taken place and how quickly victims are to report or not so how recent the offending is, and breaking down the demographics of victims and perpetrators across different types of child sexual abuse and exploitation because it does differ slightly. So that is the kind of data that we collect.

How might we be able to use that data to respond to CSA?

Kelly Agudelo:
Data is a really important and valuable asset in terms of prevention and enforcement, and I think it's really important for all statutory organisations, and also non-statutory organisations, to understand the value of the information that they may hold when, actually, when you put it all together, it gives us a really good picture of what the problem is. And this is the case for all types of crime, but never more so than for CSA.

And we can use that data as analysts to understand actually where is offending taking place that's potentially being reported or if we get information from partners that doesn't relate to a crime where there is indication that there might be offending taking place in a particular location, which gives policing the opportunity to maybe target that location and prevent offending.

We ask for information around who our victim and survivors are to identify repeat victims, or potentially identify victims who may be at risk of child sexual abuse and exploitation. We also look at perpetrator information to understand, actually, do we have perpetrators that are cropping up across multiple locations, across multiple victims, so who are quite predatory in nature?

We use perpetrator information to understand where we might have enforcement opportunities, or opportunities where we can be a bit more proactive around disrupting those offenders from a policing perspective, and therefore trying to remove the harm that they pose to our children. We also look at information relating to the kinds of child sexual abuse that is happening. So, for example, breaking it down to child-on-child or familial, and so on, to understand, actually, is that threat picture changing? What are we seeing more of? Do we need to focus our activity to kind of reflect where those trends are happening? So if we know, for example — and this is just an example — that, child sexual abuse is mostly happening within the child-on-child context, actually, that's a very different enforcement or preventative tactic as opposed to if, for example, you have adult-on-child sexual offending.

And from a different perspective, in terms of that work with partners as well, it's really important to use the data to understand, actually, are there any opportunities to develop bespoke prevention or support services which reflect what's going on in the communities locally? So from that local level as well, it's really important to collect the data and to do the analysis on the data — that should be driving a lot of the policing activity. So in terms of the importance of data capture, the data should be giving us — across statutory organisations, but specifically for me, from a policing perspective — that is the foundation on which we understand a problem and what is going on.

And if we don't have the entirety of a dataset, if we've got patches in our data, we are missing parts of that picture and we can't therefore ensure that our response collectively as statutory organisations reflects what's seen in that picture accurately. So it has real consequences in terms of us being able to develop an accurate response to prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation. So it's really important in that respect as well

So that's why the IICSA recommendation of the single core dataset needs to be implemented: because it will ensure that picture is complete and strategic responses to CSA are being based on accurate evidence. Kelly, how do we make sure that data being gathered is accurate?

Kelly Agudelo:
This is a long term issue, unfortunately, with policing data, and I'm sure it's the same for other statutory organisations as well. So we know that we've got aspects of data which are much more challenging. I should have said at the beginning that we are due to have an annual, publicly available report on the scale and nature of child sexual abuse, which is due to come out this autumn, so that will be publicly available. There will be information within that report which details, actually, where we have patches in our data.

But, as an example, we know we've got challenges in our data in relation to — and this is referenced in the report as well — the recording of gender, ethnicity and age. So actually us being able to comment on actually who are the victims and survivors who are potentially most at risk, for example, it makes it really hard to to comment with a degree of accuracy.

In terms of perpetrators, we also have challenges with our data in relation to ethnicity, gender and age. So being able to accurately understand who perpetrators are is a challenge for us. We are working to improve our data quality, so there is lots of work going on within policing to make sure that police officers, when they are capturing that information, that they are able to do that with a degree of accuracy. And that includes making sure that our crime recording systems allow this.

We also understand that there are challenges sometimes for the officers taking report, where they may not want to retraumatise the victim, or actually the focus is not actually on obtaining particular details for the victim at that point, but it's around ensuring that they get them to a place of safety and safeguarding that victim. So there are challenges in that respect in terms of the priorities for the officer taking details of the crime report.

This all has a knock-on impact in terms of the ability of analysts pull that information and make inferences on the basis of that data. So really important in terms of making sure that data is accurate not only from the perspective of understanding that national picture, but actually making sure that victims are seen in our data in a way that they are represented. So we know, for example, that there are particular communities that are underrepresented within our data. And we don't want that. We want them to be visible. We want to understand actually how is CSA/E impacting victims of particular communities.

And that report that Kelly mentioned in our conversation, the National Analysis of Police Recording Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Crimes report, was published in January 2024. The report uses data collected from 42 police forces to provide insight into the scale and nature of CSA and CSA offending across England and Wales in 2022, including crime types where these crimes were committed and the profiles of both victims and perpetrators.

To conclude, I asked Kelly how close we are to achieving the one core dataset outlined in the IICSA final report.

Kelly Agudelo:
So, within policing, we have a policing core dataset, which we are working towards and have been working on for the past few years. But we know that the policing picture is just the tip of the iceberg. We know that there's a large amount of underreporting in this area. So there is a lot of work to be done in terms of how we link in with partner agencies to understand what's being reported in to them that hasn't come in to policing. There's lots of work needed in that respect.

I think it's really important for other statutory organisations, and other organisations generally, to understand the value of soft information — or intelligence, as we call it within policing. So it may not be that there is a tangible offence that they've identified, for example, but there may be some concerns; but actually it's really important for them to feed that into policing, within the intelligence routes across their local force, because what it does, if you get bits and pieces of information and intelligence, it builds up a picture for the analysts within that force to understand, actually, we've had information from this person about this person or network.

And if you layer that with other information that might be coming in, that's really valuable. So I just want to stress that it's not just about reporting crime. Obviously, we want to make sure that we improve and increase, the way that child sexual abuse is recorded and reported. But actually, it's all the soft information that sits behind this. So, for example, this suspicious vehicle or I know that this person is using a particular method to groom children. All of that is really valuable.

So I just would urge professionals to think beyond a crime report, but actually all of the soft intelligence that they might be aware of that they don't understand has huge value.

In our conversation, Kelly explained the importance of avoiding gaps in the data. I asked Lisa McCrindle what data we are currently lacking that would improve our understanding of child sexual abuse.

Lisa McCrindle:
What we don't have is a regular prevalence survey. So we don't have a regular survey that asks detailed questions about the experience of sexual abuse that people have experienced.

We get our data presently... The best source of the data is from the regular crime survey for England and Wales updates, but inevitably that suppresses some reporting because it's framed as a crime and lots of people won't necessarily feel confident to name what happened to them necessarily as a crime. The most detailed data we have and that we draw on consistently is the NSPCC survey that was undertaken in 2009. That was a wider child maltreatment survey, so it asked some questions about sexual abuse but didn't go into detail.

So what we really, really need, and what would be a great investment in improving our data, would be a regular prevalence survey on child sexual abuse. And when I say regular, we're not calling for it every year, we're talking about could it be every five years? Could it be every ten years? This would be a massive improvement on the current data that we currently have.

And then in terms of service data, there's lots that can be done. There's huge amounts of information that's collected by services that isn't necessarily collected in a format that can be extracted and analysed. But there are things that could be done to improve individual agencies' data and their capacity to compare that data with different agencies in their locality.

If there was one thing that we would put on a data wishlist, if you like, it would be to improve our understanding about the relationship between the victim and the person that has abused them. So that's often missing from data.

If we could get that understanding about the relationship between the victim and the person that's abused them, that would give us huge insights into the context of that harm that's happening, which would enable us to think about prioritisation and response.

I wanted to end with one final incredibly important point from Lisa.

Lisa McCrindle:
Data is data, and it's really important to remember that all of those numbers are children. They're individual children who have experienced sexual abuse, who somebody has sexually harmed them. And I think it's really important that when we are looking at those numbers, we do remember that.

Thanks to Lisa McCrindle and Kelly Agudelo. You can find links to all the reports mentioned in this episode, including the latest edition of the CSA Centre's Trends in Data report, in the podcast show notes.

In the next episode of Recommendations for Change, we'll be focusing on children in care. What does the IICSA final report suggest we do to better protect vulnerable looked after children?

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this podcast, you can reach out to the NSPCC Helpline for support, call 0808 800 5000 or email This podcast series was produced in Autumn 2023.

All information was correct at the time of recording, but the world of child protection is ever-changing. To stay up to date, visit the NSPCC learning website at

3. Children in care

Please note: this podcast contains mention of child sexual abuse.

In 2015, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up to investigate where institutions failed to protect children in their care. The inquiry's final report, published in October 2022, laid out a set of powerful recommendations to address past failings and protect future generations of children from abuse.

Recommendations for Change is a five-part podcast series from NSPCC Learning, examining why these recommendations are needed, how they'll work if implemented, and what impact they will have on the prevention of child sexual abuse.

Episode three: children in care.

Children in care or looked after children are a particularly vulnerable group. Many young people enter care because they have been abused or neglected and looked after children might move in and out of care, or between care placements, frequently. These experiences can leave children with complex emotional and mental health needs, which can increase their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found that, rather than being protected, many vulnerable children who entered care were subject to further abuse.

In this episode, we will be looking in detail at the findings relating to children in care. To kick things off, I spoke to Claire Sands, Associate Head of Research at the NSPCC, to get a clearer understanding of the demographic of children currently in care in England and Wales, as well as their additional needs and challenges.

Claire Sands:
Well, the number of looked after children has been increasing year-on-year since 2010. In the year ending 31st March 2023, there were 83,840 looked after children in local authority care in England, and this increase in demand has coincided with a reduction in funding of public services, including children's social care.

We know from the data that the majority of children are in care because of abuse and neglect. The latest figures show that 65% of children in care in England, and 61.5% in Wales, were in care for these reasons. And in 2023, roughly 1 in 10 children in England and Wales experienced high instability in care. And this is when they have three or more different care placements in one year. So they're moving around a lot.

And placement instability can have a detrimental impact on a child's emotional wellbeing and mental health. It can also prevent them from forming stable relationships with the adults who could help protect them.

Children in care are more likely to have suffered hardship and trauma than their peers, and they may display challenging behaviour as a result of their experiences, and some find it hard to develop positive relationships with their peers and to trust adults.

They're also more likely to go missing than children who are not in care. In 2023, missing incidents were reported for 12,740 children living in care, and almost two thirds of these missing incidents related to children who were in residential settings. Children might run away for any number of reasons, including to escape sexual abuse. A thematic assessment of IICSA Truth Project accounts found that 24% of children abused in residential contexts ran away.

These factors, including the absence of peer and adult support networks, previous experiences of abuse and neglect, and increased likelihood of going missing, mean children in care are much more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.

During the course of their investigations, what problems with the children's social care system did IICSA identify that impacted the safety and wellbeing of children in care?

Claire Sands:
IICSA reported that institutional settings, including residential care, were prone to failures of leadership; a lack of concern for the welfare of the child; and inadequate, and sometimes wholly absent, child protection arrangements. The inquiry found that institutions sometimes prioritised their own reputations above the protection of children.

Senior people in many of the institutions studied by the inquiry were rarely held accountable for sexual abuse that had occurred in their own institution. Power imbalances were exploited in some children's homes, where some staff treated children as undeserving of protection from sexual abuse. There was evidence of victim blaming language in almost every institution, and this went largely unchallenged.

In some areas, children who were from ethnic minority communities were subject to racism by care staff. Across some institutions, there was little recognition that children with disabilities were more vulnerable to being sexually abused. The physical environment of some care settings, such as those with unsupervised outbuildings or extensive grounds, presented opportunities for sexual abuse to be perpetrated.

Residential care in the 1970s and 1980s carried little priority with senior managers and local authorities, even when they were made aware of escalating numbers of allegations of sexual abuse. Many institutions knowingly retained in their employment adults who posed a risk to children. People classed as volunteers were often allowed open access to children in care without any vetting, and in some instances a sexualised culture existed in residential homes. Although standards of conduct and child protection procedures were frequently put in place, staff were rarely trained and in their use and action was not taken against those who did not comply with those standards.

In the 1980s, there was additionally evidence of failures to vet foster carers properly for their suitability to look after children. When allegations of sexual abuse were made about foster carers, some councils were too willing to disbelieve the child. Indeed, complaints of abuse made by children were rarely listened to by institutions and were often dismissed without investigation.

Strengthening the safeguarding systems within children's social care is a continuous task, and it's vital that we learn from IICSA and implement their recommendations.

The final report makes clear the need to enact changes that create a safer environment for children living in care. The final report refers to a "patchy and incomplete" regulation of professions working with children in England and Wales. To find out more about how children's homes are currently regulated, I spoke to Patricia Cannon, a solicitor and head of family and childcare at law firm Simpson Millar.

Patricia Cannon:
So, there is a Children's Homes Regulations Act, which is from 2015, and it sets nine quality standards for children's homes. I'll just detail a little bit of the standards that it sets.

The first standard is the standard of care quality and purpose. So the idea around that standard is to address the needs of a child from a physical, emotional and psychological perspective. It's intended to promote growth and development so that it meets the particular needs of an individual child.

Then there's also the children's views, wishes and feelings standard. It's designed to allow children a voice in decisions about their lives. It's set to allow children's opinions to be gathered and they should be listened to.

There's the education standard, which requires suitable education provision to be provided to a child. There's the enjoyment and achievement standard. This is to encourage and foster positive relationships. Often children who are in children's homes don't have support networks. They've arrived from very difficult circumstances, and this is intended to help them develop their social skills, their emotional resilience, and also to help them develop a support network.

There's the health and wellbeing standard. This covers emotional and physical care and should allow for access to mental health services as well. There's the protection of children standard, which addresses the importance of providing safe and secure living for children. And that should also cover the vetting of staff that work with children, and there should be processes for incident reporting and protocols for emergencies. The idea of the standard is to ensure that children are protected from harm and maltreatment.

There's the leadership and management standard, which addresses the need for management structures to be in place so that there are skilled people working with children, maintaining high standards so that children have a consistent experience of the care that they are given.

And then there's the care planning standard. This covers the needs for personalised care for children. So it would promote bespoke planning to help young people to develop opportunities for their future as well.

Children's homes are inspected by Ofsted and it can assess those criteria which I've just described. Those are the ways that children's homes are regulated.

And what are the regulatory requirements for people working with children in care settings?

Patricia Cannon:
Sure, so, for those working with children in children's homes, they should undergo a criminal records check before taking up a position. It's described as DBS, which is the Disclosure Barring Service. So the idea is that it would reveal if someone is barred from engaging in regulated activity, for example, working with children.

There are also regulations which set out information which an employer should check as to a person's suitability to work in a children's home, for example, proof of identity. They would need the DBS certificate, references, verification as far as possible as to the reason why they may have left their previous employment, or why their position might have ended. There should be documentary evidence of any qualifications that the person has that are relevant to the position, as well as a full employment history, and these records should be available for inspection if so required.

What I would say about that is that where there is a concern that an individual may pose a risk of harm to children, employers have a legal duty to notify the DBS, for example, when they've dismissed an individual or where there is a reason that that individual has resigned from their role. But despite this, the DBS has indicated that it doesn't receive the number of referrals it would expect to from employers.

So IICSA's recommendations nine and ten are about strengthening the use of the DBS barred list. What might this look like in practice?

Patricia Cannon:
So, supervisory authorities have the power to refer individuals to the DBS so that they may be included on the barred list, but they don't have a legal duty to refer or to share information unless in response to a specific request, so that leaves it a little bit open. And the report that we're discussing remained concerned that individuals were not always being referred to the DBS, so that means that they could move on to a different setting without their risk being properly considered in their new working environment.

The proposals around the DBS that Patricia just explained are part of IICSA's broader consideration of safer recruitment practices. The IICSA final report says that safer recruitment is, quote, "a central aspect of keeping children safe", but that "throughout its investigations, the inquiry encountered examples of poor recruitment practice".

I asked Chloe Meaney, a safeguarding consultant at the NSPCC who specialises in HR and safer recruitment, to provide some advice on what organisations can do to ensure they're putting safer recruitment at the heart of their recruitment processes.

Chloe Meaney:
So what we've learned from there is that all of these areas of safe recruitment are vital to keeping children safe, and we have to remain vigilant and maintain a continual learning approach to all the elements that make for a good, safer recruitment practice.

To help us understand what safer recruitment looks like, it's really helpful to break it down into key areas. So we have the planning, understanding the roles as well as a really well-thought-out selection and assessment process; robust vetting; and then all the elements that are required to continually assess suitability, such as induction, trial or probation periods, regular check-ins and a really clear policy on expected conduct and behaviour and how to manage any safeguarding concerns.

I would say a really good place to start for organisations and individuals who have control of these types of policies is to really look at those, look at your recruitment, selection and vetting policy and process as it currently is, and does it include safer recruitment steps? You know, what does that look like? Is it legally compliant? Has it been reviewed with a safeguarding mindset, for example? That's really the key to this. And, you know, going beyond compliance, does it support a positive safeguarding culture? And these are all questions we can explore when reviewing how we are practising safe recruitment.

So it does go far beyond just the the criminal record check and the safeguarding messages that we're so used to talking about.

Are there any resources out that professionals should make use of when reviewing their safer recruitment processes?

Chloe Meaney:
There's so much out there. I mean, a lot of this is in statutory guidance, you know, Working together to safeguard children. And then there's lots of sector-driven guidance as well that really outlines the basic... Getting the basics right. And getting the basics right is fundamental to a really robust, safer recruitment process.

But what we also have learned from the inquiry is what we can do beyond the basics. And those are things like incorporating value-based recruitment and value-based interviewing is an example of that. It's a framework that helps us to ask questions around a person's motivation and attitude in relation to working with children, as well as their understanding of safe practice and professional boundaries. And it's only when we start asking those richer questions from individuals that we can really understand more about them.

It always has to be relevant to the role. So I come back to understanding the role and mapping your selection criteria and assessment against the role. So, to make sure that those are the questions that you're asking at selection stage are relevant, but that they give you the opportunity to learn more about individuals and make that really informed decision about their suitability in working with children and young people.

And if you'd like to learn more, we've put some links to different NSPCC safer recruitment resources in the podcast show notes. As part of its proposals around regulation of the care sector, IICSA recommends that the UK government introduces arrangements for the registration of care staff working in children's homes, recommendation seven in the final report.

Staff in children's homes are already required to have a DBS check, but registration would enhance the accountability of staff and ensure they're receiving the necessary training for the role. The IICSA recommendation says that registration should be with an independent body that sets and maintains standards of training, conduct and continuing professional development. This body should also have the power to enforce these through fitness to practice procedures.

The registration of care staff in children's homes is already in place in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. To find out more about how this kind of registration works in practice, I spoke to David Pritchard. David is the director of regulation at Social Care Wales, which is the regulator of the social care workforce in Wales.

David Pritchard:
This recommendation is around the regulation of those who work in children's homes, and it's about whether we think about those people who do that work and think they should be registered in the same way perhaps that nurses, that doctors, that a whole range of other professionals are. It's not really within my gift to talk about what the situation is in England, but I can give you a little bit of our experience in Wales where we've been registering people who work in children's homes for many years.

We have around 3,500 people, working in that sector, and they're all registered with us — that is Social Care Wales — and what that means is that when they apply to be on the register, we do a check on who they are and their background. And that gives us a sense of whether they are appropriate, and if they're not, if they've got particular histories, we will not allow them to work in the sector, and that means they can't get a job doing that work.

When they become registered, they're subject to a code of professional practice that sets out what they have to do and how they do their job. It's not about the specific tasks, it's more about the values and the approach that they take. If they fall foul of that, then we have the opportunity to investigate, and, if necessary, to take action against that individual. We can give them warnings. We can recommend they take action to learn particular things. Or, at the extreme, we can remove their right to work in the sector. And that's a really powerful contribution to public protection, we believe. It really makes a difference to the public's confidence in the children's residential sector, but it also protects the status and view of the workforce itself, because they know that they are part of a skilled, competent and suitably qualified group of individuals.

But I would say that registration isn't just about public protection, although that is clearly the first and foremost. It also allows us to set standards. It gives us huge amounts of data about those who are working in our sector, and it gives us a way of offering them support and to communicate with them about things that are important. So, for example, during Covid, we were able to give those people really clear and important messages about their practice during what was clearly one of the most challenging periods of our lifetimes.

It also allows us to learn information about what's going on in the sector, about the referrals we're getting and areas, perhaps, of poor practice that we can feed back into the sector to help them improve practice and avoid making some of those mistakes. So we believe registration is fundamentally about public protection, but it also gives us a wider suite of opportunities to improve practice and improve the safeguarding of children in children's residential sector.

So, the registration of care staff can lead to an improvement in the quality of service provision as well as child protection. What other steps are Social Care Wales taking in light of the IICSA findings?

David Pritchard:
So I think the IICSA report really has set a set of questions for all of us working in social care about what we do and how we work with other agencies. And I think for us in Social Care Wales, that has strengthened our work with a range of other organisations that I think is really important. So, for example, around safeguarding, we have put together training for all those who work in our sector, that they can get the basics of what safeguarding requires. And we work very closely with the regional safeguarding boards that have been established in Wales and the National Independent Safeguarding Board itself, to really assess what more we can do to promote safeguarding across the sector.

And, you know, generally children's services are clearly under major pressure across the UK and that's no difference in Wales. But we've been very supportive of working with the Welsh Government about a range of initiatives to understand what the issues are but also to put in place the kind of solutions that might make a difference. But what IICSA has done is really shone a light on the sector and where we can do more to help improve the safeguarding of our children.

In addition to recommendations that aim to create a safer environment for children in care, the IICSA final report also includes proposals to empower children in care to speak out about abuse and, crucially, have their voices listened to and respected. Reform to the legal recourse that children living in care have access to is one area of consideration.

As mentioned earlier, children living in care may feel that they have little control or say over aspects of their life. This extends to their legal position. Decisions are made on their behalf by local authorities, who act as their corporate parent and arrange their care plan, and there are limited routes by which children and young people in care can express their views about their circumstances. Here's Patricia Cannon with more information.

Patricia Cannon:
When a child is in care they could make a formal complaint about their care. There is a mechanism to do that. For example, they can — if they had the resources and the skills to do so — they could make a complaint to the Children's Commissioner or to a local government ombudsman. But it doesn't change the position of the children in care.

There are limited routes by which children in care can try and raise concern about the care that they are given. They should have access to advocacy provision to make representations that they wish to make. It would be in limited circumstances, really, that children would probably feel empowered to raise these sorts of concerns because once they're in care, their network is more limited and they rely on those around them to be able to help them to raise concerns. And that's part of what this report had to address was children voicing concerns and not being listened to or feeling that they weren't listened to.

At present, children can bring applications under the Human Rights Act 1989. They would normally be represented by an adult acting as their litigation friend, and can conduct proceedings on their behalf. They can get legal aid for those sorts of applications. They can ask for a decision by a local authority to be judicially reviewed. But that's a legal mechanism that is very little used by children. And the child would need to show that the local authority had acted in a way that was illegal or irrational or procedurally improper. These are really high thresholds, so it's a difficult legal route for a child to take. Those proceedings don't put the welfare of a child as paramount importance, which is of paramount importance in Children Act proceedings, where, for example, the parents are involved.

At the moment, children also have the recourse of reporting matters to the police again. This report reveals that that's difficult for them to do. They're vulnerable. There are issues with them being scared of not being believed or, in fact, not being believed. They could also seek compensation under the criminal injuries compensation claim but, again, that there would be might have been police involvement. It's quite a difficult one for a child to raise awareness about the concerns that they have.

Recommendation six of the IICSA final report proposes an amendment to the Children Act 1989 that will improve children's access to legal recourse. Patricia, please can you explain how this amendment will work if implemented?

Patricia Cannon:
Recommendation six is, again, an empowerment option for a child because they can make an application to the court. The application can be brought by the child. This recommendation would allow the court to consider an application by a child where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child who is in the care of a local authority is experiencing, or is at risk of experiencing, significant harm. And what the provision would do would be to prohibit a local authority from taking an act or a proposed act which it would otherwise be entitled to take in exercising its parental responsibility for the child. And the court could give directions.

And the change would ensure that vulnerable children at risk of harm have recourse to court about a range of aspects about their care. And it would mean that in raising those concerns, their welfare is the court's paramount consideration, as it is, when local authorities bring care proceedings or where parents go before the court in relation to private law applications, which are disputes between parents.

In addition, IICSA emphasises that the amendment should be accompanied by the introduction of procedural measures to ensure court applications are accessible to children in care. There should also be provision for legal aid to provide advice and assist with representation.

Patricia raised the important point that IICSA found that some children who voiced concerns around abuse did not feel listened to, or were worried that their concerns weren't being believed. One of the ways the report proposes to address this is through recommendation 13, the introduction of mandatory reporting. This recommendation would make it a legal requirement for certain individuals to report child sexual abuse when they witness abuse happening or when they receive a disclosure of abuse. These individuals will be known as mandated reporters. This puts the onus of reporting abuse onto the caregiver, meaning there would be substantively more support for the child to come forward and disclose abuse when it is happening.

Since the publication of the IICSA final report, the government has held two consultations into mandatory reporting and what it might look like in practice, and the NSPCC submitted responses to both of those consultations. I spoke to Matt Forde, Partnerships and Development Director at the NSPCC, about the recommendation as proposed by IICSA.

Matt Forde:
The inquiry reached its position and made its recommendation on mandatory reporting because of the terrible evidence that was found of institutions and individuals failing to act, even when they were aware or suspected that children were being abused. And it's just completely unacceptable for adults, particularly professionals in positions of trust, to turn a blind eye to abuse. They have an absolute responsibility to protect children and young people. Reporting abuse is essential and we would always say that people should speak up if they have any doubt or concern about a child, including through our Helpline. So, you know, we're absolutely clear about that.

But we don't think that mandatory reporting is a magic bullet that will solve the many problems that were uncovered by the independent inquiry. My caution is that, you know, we do know from experience in other countries that there are issues we need to consider here. It's not necessarily the case that introducing mandatory reporting would improve outcomes for children, not least because it could have unintended impacts on the way that system works by shifting resources to investigation without necessarily improving outcomes for children through care and therapeutic services. So, I mean, it is essential that reporting happens when abuse is suspected, that's how you uncover it, but it's not the end in itself.

If it is introduced, we would be saying that it has to be introduced in a way that's part of a much wider child-centred response which results in children getting the right support when abuse is uncovered so that they can recover. If we are going to go this route, there have to be resources provided to respond to potentially higher demands for parts of the system that are responding to levels of disclosures  and reports, because otherwise we would be an unacceptable situation where lack of resources would be preventing children who are being abused being identified by the authorities.

You know, any approach to mandatory reporting that results from the current consultation has to be based on a clear understanding that everyone has a role and what their role is in protecting children. And if groups of people within services — people in positions of trust and so on — become mandated reporters, they'd have to be absolutely clear about the responsibilities and also be equipped with the knowledge and understanding to be able to see the potential signs and indicators of abuse and to be clear about what it is they do if they suspect abuse. And training for people who would be in that position of being mandated reporters would be absolutely essential, and that needs to be resourced.

And I think, lastly, mandatory reporting needs to be seen in a context where institutions are held accountable for how they protect children. And, you know, institutions ultimately are responsible for the people who work for them and for their own organisational record in terms of protecting children. None of what I've talked about should result in children being denied opportunities to engage in safe places to get support. They need to be able to go to safe spaces without fear of always be reported to the authorities. So, we would think it'd be really important to identify where any system that allows children to have that sort of safe space, for example, when they're engaged in therapeutic work to help recover or contacting Childline.

At the time of recording, a mandatory reporting duty is set to be incorporated into the Criminal Justice Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament.

And, before bringing this podcast episode to a close, it's also important to mention that, in February 2023, the Department for Education published its plans to reform children's social care in England. This included plans to work with the sector to develop a national framework for children's social care. If you want to find out more, we've put a link to our CASPAR briefing summarising the proposals in the podcast show notes, and you'll also be able to find links to two podcast episodes we produced on the topic as well.

Thanks to Patricia Cannon, Matt Forde, Chloe Meaney, David Pritchard and Claire Sands. In the next episode of Recommendations for Change, we'll be looking at online safety. How big is the scale of the online abuse problem, and how do the IICSA recommendations seek to tackle the issue?

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this podcast, you can reach out to the NSPCC Helpline for support. Call 0808 800 5000 or email

This podcast series was produced in Autumn 2023. All information was correct at the time of recording, but the world of child protection is ever changing. To stay up to date, visit the NSPCC Learning website at

4. Online safety

Please note this podcast contains mention of child sexual abuse.

In 2015, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up to investigate where institutions failed to protect children in their care. The inquiry's final report, published in October 2022, laid out a set of powerful recommendations to address past failings and protect future generations of children from abuse.

Recommendations for Change is a five part podcast series from NSPCC Learning, examining why these recommendations are needed, how they'll work if implemented, and what impact they will have on the prevention of child sexual abuse.

Episode four: online safety.

Being online is an integral part of children and young people's lives, but it can expose them to risks, including sexual abuse. The past five years has seen a proliferation in child sexual abuse (CSA) material online data from the Internet Watch Foundation, the UK hotline for reporting and removing online child sexual abuse material, shows that the number of reports of web pages assessed as containing CSA increased from 78,000 in 2017 to 255,000 in 2022.

IICSA published an investigation report into the growing problem of online-facilitated CSA in March 2020. It investigated the response of law enforcement, industry and government to three types of offending: indecent images of children offences, the grooming of a child, and live streaming of child sexual abuse. It found that whilst the last five years have seen improvements in the responses to these issues, there was no evidence to suggest a decrease in online child sexual abuse offences and, quote, "law enforcement is struggling to keep pace".

A step forward was made in October 2023 with the passing of the Online Safety Act, which gives online service providers new legal responsibilities to keep children safe on their platforms. However, there is still much work that needs to be done in order to eradicate child sexual abuse online.

In this episode, we will be exploring the scale of the online abuse problem and how the recommendations seek to tackle the issue. Susie Hargreaves is the Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation. We spoke to Susie about the importance of implementing strong online protections for children in October 2023, a couple of weeks before the Online Safety Act was signed into law.

Susie Hargreaves:
The internet is a really positive space, and of course, children get so much out of use of the internet, their entertainment, their social networking, their education. But unfortunately it has a really dark side as well, which is that children are very easily exploited on the internet, and, without protections being put in place, there will always be people who will try and take advantage of the most vulnerable people in society. So, we would always say, you know, it's not that technology is bad, it's not that the internet is bad, but the reality is that there is a lot of very, very bad stuff on the internet, and we need to do everything we can to keep our children safe.

Now, the IWF, the area I work with, we deal with illegal content, so we're dealing with the very worst of the content. So this is illegal content. It's illegal for everybody. It's illegal to make, to share, to distribute and to produce. So, you know, basically we need to make sure that nobody has access to this content. But of course, looking at this content is not the worst thing. The worst thing is that actually children are sexually abused in the making of this content. And in fact, every single time somebody looks at that content, that child is revictimised, their abuse reoccurs, and it's not a victimless crime.

So what we need to do is do everything we can to put safety protections around children online so that this really hideous, heinous crime doesn't happen because children carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

What does the IICSA final report say about the challenge presented by online-facilitated child sexual abuse?

Susie Hargreaves:
Well, the IICSA final report made a number of recommendations. Obviously only a few of them were related to online child sexual abuse. We were privileged enough to be co-participants in the IICSA inquiry on the online space, and it was very clear that we needed to put some specific protections in place for children.

Of course, this was aligned to what was happening at that time. The Online Safety Bill was going through Parliament at the time, and actually IICSA was taking that into account. So specifically on the online space, it made a number of recommendations.

The first, which totally relates to our area of work, was the need to screen for child sexual abuse. So instead of sort of just relying on people might do it, companies might do it. There would then be, a commitment from companies to have to pre-screen/screen to ensure that child sexual abuse did not go onto their platforms using a range of technologies to enable them to do that. And that was really important for us.

The second was the age verification side. So whilst the IWF is not an organisation that deals with inappropriate content that children are accessing, we are also, co-directors of the UK's Safer Internet Centre, so obviously we care very, very much about children's access to that material. So we want to ensure that children do not have access to pornography. We also want to ensure that children who are under 13 don't have access to social media. So we really want to see robust age verification and age appropriate tools put in place on the online safety bill.

And the third was the CSE/A, the Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Code of practice, which of course, is, under the Online Safety Bill.

You mentioned the Online Safety Bill, which is soon to be given royal assent and will become the Online Safety Act. How does the Online Safety Act dovetail with the final recommendations?

Susie Hargreaves:
Now, prior to the, bill going through in relation to online child sexual abuse, companies worked on a voluntary basis. So they were obliged kind of morally to do what they could to keep their platforms clean of child sexual abuse, or to do as much as they possibly could to ensure that it didn't get loaded onto their platforms, but there was no kind of transparency or accountability around that.

Now, what's really important about the Online Safety Bill is that will no longer be a voluntary thing, but they will actually have to legally comply with that. So they will have to demonstrate, how they are doing the best they can to keep their platforms as clean as possible. And that will be to ensure that there are robust online safety tools, that there are robust tech solutions. So we provide a number of tech solutions to companies.

When we talk about screening platforms, what we're talking about is we provide things like a hash list, which is a list of digital fingerprints of known child sexual abuse images — we currently have about 1.2 million of these — and companies will deploy that across their platform to stop anybody uploading a duplicate image. If it has a match, it won't go onto the platform. So that's really important so that that content doesn't get onto the platform to begin with. We also provide things like a blocking list. So a URL list, a list of web pages that currently contain child sexual abuse and haven't been removed from the internet yet. So they will be obliged to make sure that people can't access that material. It's really important that these elements of the IICSA report, which raised awareness of the fact that that a lot of companies weren't doing that, they now will be legally obliged to do that.

The other thing that's important to say in relation to how the Online Safety Act, as it will be, in a couple of weeks, dovetails with the IICSA final report, is an awful lot of the detail has yet to be worked through. So, whilst we have some fundamental principles in place around the Online Safety Act, the actual operational side is really still to play for. So we need to ensure that when the consultation comes out, and they'll be dealing with illegal material in the first instance, which is the area we work in, but some of the sort of knottier, more difficult questions around harmful content and making sure that we keep children safe online have to be worked through. So it's not a job done yet.

And that's why it's really important to keep the pressure on about the IICSA recommendations, because we are all, across the child protection spectrum, online and offline, we're working together to keep people focused on these are our recommendation. These are the things we want to see. And we can't just sit there and be complacent and think, well, the Online Safety Bill is done and dusted, so that's going to cover everything. So there's still a lot of work to do.

And finally, what can professionals working with children and young people do to keep them safe online?

Susie Hargreaves:
Well, one of the things we would always say about the ways in which professionals working with children and young people can help them keep safe online is that it's not just a one thing is the solution. You know, actually you have to take a joint approach.

So, we work in technology. Now technology is part of the solution. It's a major part of the solution. And the internet companies have got a lot more to do to ensure that they keep children safe online. But that's not the whole picture. We also need to have proper legislative and law enforcement support. Hopefully this will be resolved through the Online Safety Bill. But also we need a really strong education and awareness programme. And that's why it's really important that a lot of us work together. So the IWF, the organisation I lead, we are very much dealing with technical solutions, but it's really important we work with organisations like the NSPCC, because we don't deal directly with children, we don't have that level of expertise, but we can share our knowledge between us. And that's really important.

And a great example of that is that we run a project called Report Remove together, where we enable young people to self-refer nudes of themselves for us to get them removed, to stop them being criminalised and to get those taken off the internet. We deal with the kind of technical, how do you take it down off the internet, and the NSPCC deal with the safeguarding aspect, but we join together on some of the education and awareness around that. So I think what's really important is that everybody works together and we recognise that there isn't a single solution to this.

But the other thing we really feel strongly —  and I know this is shared across the board — that parents and carers, they do have a responsibility to make sure they do the best to keep children safe online. And you can't just bury your head in the sand on this. So, in the same ways you would on any element of children's safety, you need to not be scared by the internet. There's lots of help out there. There's lots of resources. There's lots of practical know-how points to help you keep yourself safe online.

And one of the things we've discovered through the research we've done is that, you know, one meaningful conversation can make all the difference. So it's really important that people talk about that. So you have to think about and learn about platforms that your children are on. You have to talk to them about what they're doing. You have to set family rules and family guidelines that everybody sticks to, and you have to take a sensible approach to this.

But I think being scared of the internet is not helpful. Let's just all accept the internet is a wonderful thing, wonderful. But we have a responsibility to tackle that really dangerous, unsafe element. And if you've got a six- or seven-year-old, they really shouldn't be in that bedroom on their own with a camera-enabled device and an internet connection without supervision. So don't think just because they're in your house that they're safe. You have a responsibility to know what they're doing. But don't panic because the help is out there as well.

As Susie said earlier, the Online Safety Act introduces legal requirements for companies to prevent illegal content from appearing on their platforms. This includes content depicting, promoting or facilitating child sexual abuse. If age inappropriate content, such as pornography, is present on a platform, companies must also use age verification tools to prevent children from accessing this content. This can be seen as a fulfilment of IICSA's recommendations on online safety.

Recommendation 12 proposes that providers of internet search services and user-to-user services pre-screen uploaded content for known child sexual abuse material.

Recommendation 20 proposes that the UK government change the law to make sure that social media platforms and other companies that provide online services introduce better age verification measures. However, as Susie says, we will have to wait and see whether this legislation has the desired effect or whether more steps are needed to tackle online-facilitated CSA.

I wanted to find out more about how law enforcement responds to online-facilitated child sexual abuse, so I spoke to Ian Critchley, the National Police Chiefs Council lead for child protection.

Ian Critchley:
I genuinely feel this is one of the most critical areas in society that we are now now dealing with: the explosion of the internet. As we know, it's a real positive with opportunities for us all, and particularly for young people, but also brings with it a great threat and challenge that we must we must address. And it's that area that I feel that we have a great responsibility for, both law enforcement and our partners, parents and carers — and I'm a parent of three children myself — but also, most importantly, the industry and the companies who should take the greatest responsibility.

The accessibility now to young people, 12- to 15-year-olds. And there's a doubling of, since 2011, of access to smartphones. So we will be in the 90% now of 12- to 15-year-olds, but of 8- to 11-year-olds; we're over 20% now of 8- to 11-year-olds who have a social media account. So we must ensure that we protect young people from harm.

What does that harm look like? It is of the highest level, from adults who seek to groom exploit young children by meeting with them, having facilitated meetings online, seek to blackmail them to share further images of themselves. And we see some of the worst offending that we know has huge, huge impact for the rest of children's lives. And clearly, myself, my colleagues, NCA, other law enforcement, both in the UK and around the country, are working tirelessly to identify these offenders.

We're also seeing a rise in relation to peer-on-peer offending. We saw from the Everyone's Invited campaign, which called out offending within the school, particularly within the school environment, of high harm offences that were being committed between peers of which there is absolutely criminal justice route for high harm offending. But what we also saw was what we say is a normalisation of behaviour in this area.

So what do I mean by that? Young people taking imagery of themselves, self-generated imagery, sharing it with their partners, consensual partners. And of course, they might be the partners at the time but clearly once an image is shared, it can be lost and therefore used across the internet in many different ways. We don't want to criminalise young people in this area. It's important that we're able to safeguard and protect them as well.

And this is just where we are now, clearly, on top of that, we have a growing development of artificial intelligence, children going into what we call the metaverse as well, young children going into, you know, social media, gaming, and not knowing who they are dealing with or confronting. So, really important that we take our responsibilities as law enforcement and partners, really important as parents and carers that we have those challenging conversations — I know how difficult they are, but we have them — and give trust and confidence to the young people to engage. But most importantly, that industry steps up to the mark, much more so than it's doing now. And I really welcome the Online Safety Bill and the impact of that should have for you.

For you, do the IICSA recommendations on online safety go far enough?

Ian Critchley:
I think IICSA really identified the critical issues here for us all, working together, that young people are facing now in an ever changing society. So I think it fulfilled its role in making the recommendations and dovetailing across into the Online Safety Bill, without seeking to try and duplicate or replicate what needs to be coming in law.

And it's that aspect that is absolutely crucial to make sure that companies are able to prevent, first of all, the loading of child abuse material onto their platforms that they make millions and billions of pounds from. We're not talking just about, you know, we're not talking about dark web here. We are talking three clicks. Three clicks — which again was highlighted in the report — to access child abuse material.

So first of all, stop it being on their platforms in the first place. Secondly, a legal duty to identify and report to the authorities once it's there. And thirdly, to remove it from their platforms, as well. We do have, to some extent, good engagement with industry where this happens, particularly with partnerships with, for example, the Internet Watch Foundation, in order to be able to report and remove this material. But it is... We are talking about the tip of an iceberg when we consider the extent of offending that I've outlined already.

And, no matter what is done — by parents, carers, by law enforcement — until industry plays its role, not because they're forced to, because there are legal duties. Because for me, they should have a moral duty to make sure that those people who are using their platforms, that they have created these communities, they have a moral duty to keep those communities safe. And if they don't, frankly, then they'll find that people will walk away, quite rightly, from that.

I believe this area, the online area, also much wider than we're talking about child abuse, because of course, we've seen children access to other harmful material. We've seen the impact on suicides in some really dreadful cases that have been highlighted in the news and inquests that have taken place as a result of the impact of harmful material that young people have seen. But I genuinely feel this is one of the biggest public health issues facing children. I'm really grateful for the panel within IICSA making this area really prominent. I also believe it will feature prominently in the rewrite of Working Together that is ongoing and being consulted with at this moment in time.

I don't think at this moment partners consider the threats around online probably quite as much as we do in terms of some more traditional threats around child protection. But I think that is starting to change. And we take a responsibility for that.

And you mentioned the Online Safety Bill earlier. Does this piece of legislation do enough to address CSA? There are concerns around the ability to enforce the proposals laid out in a technology space where end-to-end encryption exists, for example.

Ian Critchley:
I do believe it's an effective piece of legislation. Clearly it's only effective subject to how then it is implemented and how it is regulated. And Ofcom are clearly the main regulatory body in this regard. The main duty in relation to child sexual abuse is the necessity to prevent, report and remove around it.

I think the first year or two will require companies to outline to Ofcom how they are going to mitigate and manage that risk of harm. They will have a specific duty around risk assessments. They will have to demonstrate how they are proactively identifying child sexual abuse material and how they are seeking to take reasonable steps with technology to prevent it in the first place. And I think that's going to be absolutely the key in terms of what and who defines what reasonable steps are being used to prevent it.

I am concerned around the impact of end-to-end encryption. That seems to separate the need and the societal need to protect children, being pitched against a privacy argument. This isn't the privacy issue. And I totally understand the necessity for  privacy for young people, but there are sufficient technical, enablers to allow privacy and contact between consenting people to that that protects children and identifies offenders. It's unfortunate that the language is being used to try and conflict the two.

All of us have a duty to protect and safeguard children. There will be a legal duty to do that for the companies. They cannot water that down, or should not be able to water that down, by saying, "well, we've brought end-to-end encryption in and therefore we can't see what's going on on our platforms. Therefore, how can we prevent it or how can we report it or remove it?" They have the technical capabilities to ensure there is encryption of message yet to be able to identify, report and remove indecent images of children. That is a must. That is my concern.

I think my other concern is the speed in which we move from implementation and enactment to be able to identify non-compliance around it. So, the duty for companies to manage and mitigate risk, to complete risk assessments, to demonstrate what they're doing, and then for Ofcom to assess that and then determine and identify where there is non-compliance; I'm just concerned about the time scale. I think this area is moving so quick. We're already talking about— it's not something in the future when we're talking about artificial intelligence and virtual reality. It's already here. We're already seeing child sexual abuse material within the metaverse. We are dealing with a huge increase in what will start to become an even bigger increase of demand in that area.

And ultimately, where should we really be in this area? We should be preventing it rather than having to respond to it in the first place. I often will get and accept and acknowledge the need for law enforcement to step forward. We've worked with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service to take forward recommendations for policing, so I acknowledge and take responsibility, as the national lead, that policing needs to do much more. But being able to predict the demand that we've got here, being able to deal with this, as well as many of the things that policing needs to do, being able to concentrate on those who are committing the highest level of harm will best be done if industry prevents such material being on their platforms in the first place.

It will still be there; people will still find their way to the dark web and other areas but absolutely it will make it safer for children. It will mean that it reduces volume demand on us, and it will mean we can concentrate on those who are committing the highest level of harm. It's a real challenge, but one in which we must all strive to make sure that that community, that online community, is as safe as we would want our streets and our neighbourhoods to be.

Thanks to Ian Critchley and Susie Hargreaves. You can find a link to the Internet Watch Foundation's latest annual report in the podcast show notes. For more online safety advice, visit

In the next episode of Recommendations for Change, we'll be looking at justice and redress. What can be done to improve victims and survivors experiences of the criminal justice system?

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this podcast, you can reach out to the NSPCC Helpline for support, call 0808 800 5000 or email

This podcast series was produced in Autumn 2023. All information was correct at the time of recording, but the world of child protection is ever-changing. To stay up to date, visit the NSPCC Learning website at

5. Justice and redress

Please note this podcast contains mention of child sexual abuse.

In 2015, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up to investigate where institutions failed to protect children in their care. The inquiry's final report, published in October 2022, laid out a set of powerful recommendations to address past failings and protect future generations of children from abuse. Recommendations for Change is a five-part podcast series from NSPCC Learning, examining why these recommendations are needed, how they'll work if implemented, and what impact they will have on the prevention of child sexual abuse.

Episode five: justice and redress.

The criminal and civil justice systems play an important role in the way the state responds to child sexual abuse. However, many of IICSA's investigations feature details of inadequate responses from the police, Crown Prosecution Service and courts.

Through the IICSA Truth Project, victims and survivors were able to share their firsthand experiences of the justice system, from initial disclosure of abuse, through investigation by the police force or CPS, and then to court. The IICSA final report summarises the challenges they faced in pursuit of justice, including failures by police forces to fully investigate reports of child sexual abuse and delays in court proceedings, which can be stressful and traumatising for victims and survivors.

In this final episode of Recommendations for Change, we'll be exploring how the information and recommendations proposed in the IICSA final report might improve victims and survivors experiences of the criminal justice system. We'll also be looking at proposed changes to the available schemes of compensation and redress.

The first person I spoke to about policing and the criminal justice system was Ian Critchley. Ian is the National Police Chiefs Council lead for child protection and was previously the deputy chief constable of Merseyside Police.

Ian Critchley:
My role, so this can be broken down into three or four key areas. One is making sure that policing consistently develops and enhances its approach to prevent child abuse, to give confidence to victims — both children and adult survivors — to come forward and to bring more offenders to justice. So that's a really critical area for us. And clearly we take much learning from from IICSA around that.

Two is to enhance partnerships at the national and local levels. I work very much with national key stakeholders, both within government, statutory partners, but also obviously charitable organisations and third sector like the NSPCC as well.

And thirdly, I work very closely with the College of Policing and the Vulnerability Knowledge Practice Programme to make sure that we are converting strategy and reviews into action that makes a real difference at every level, whether that's our specialist child protection teams, whether that is our front line officers — you know, new 20,000 officers come into the organisation — contact centre staff; everybody within the system knows their role, also knows the partner role, so we can work together to best protect children from abuse that we know will have a lifelong impact.

Ian began by giving an overview of the recommendations and findings in the IICSA final report relating to the justice system.

Ian Critchley:
There is clearly within the 20 key recommendations, requirements to review the joint inspection of the Victims' Code and also removal of the three year time limitations for civil claims as well; recognising the impact that child abuse has on victims, and also timeliness in terms of confidence to report, as well. So I think they are some of the key recommendations within there.

I remind myself of what was the evidence that was given and provided across the criminal justice system, and it is at this point where I continue to reiterate my apology on behalf of policing and the failures that took place over many years in relation to the way we failed to believe, listen, to deal with timeliness of investigation, to signpost to victim support services, to make sure our language was appropriate at all times and was no way victim blaming, to provide communications in relation to how quick our investigations were progressing or not as well.

And, I also remind myself that we are part and parcel of the wider criminal justice system. So CPS, there was evidence given within the Truth Project around the need for CPS to give further information around verdicts, sentencing, decisions not to prosecute. The court system, quite frankly, is just too slow for victims once they do make that difficult decision to disclose, years and years sometimes in the waiting. And then, I read from from one victim, Bethany, within the Truth Project, whose quote: "the sentence massively diminished the crime. It makes me feel worthless." So, again, very careful around when we talk about outcomes, that this is lifelong and a criminal justice element is just one bit of that.

Focusing in on the police force. The police are often the first to be told about an incident of child sexual abuse. Of the IICSA Truth Project participants who did disclose their abuse at the time it was happening, 33% disclosed to the police. It's therefore critical that police forces respond appropriately to such reports.

Unfortunately, as you just alluded to, a number of victims and survivors talked about the police not taking formal action after reports were made. Please can you explain where the police force has gone wrong in responding to child sexual abuse in the past, and what needs to be done to improve responses to CSA going forward?

Ian Critchley:
Yeah. If I touch, first of all, I suppose on what we're doing in policing and what was identified in IICSA. So, really interesting fact that, you know, up until 1988 the uncorroborated evidence of a child was inadmissible [in court]. You know, a myth— a criminal justice system that perpetuated a myth about children.

We didn't link perpetrators together. So we might have had an investigation 'A' over here — it might even have been in the same force — or investigation 'B' over here, but not talking to each other. Perfect case of that was obviously the appalling offences committed by Jimmy Saville, around it, which led to obviously developments and us enhancing both the police national database but also Operation Hydrant around it.

A hierarchy that existed in police forces where concerns by our investigators were failed to be able to be acted on by strategic leaders. I talked about a victim blaming and belief: we historically have arrested children who were seeking to report crimes of abuse, leaving the abuser free to continue to have perpetrate their appalling crimes.

Areas like missing, we weren't picking up on the warning signs. So areas like missing, failing to undertake quality return interviews and really not identifying the scale and nature of it, particularly around group-based offending of course. In some areas, we were paying deference to persons in positions of prominence as well, who escaped justice.

Making wrong decisions by police and CPS to prosecute — I've actually just chaired a child sexual abuse referral panel. And we've also now got since 2013 the right to review. So giving an opportunity for victims to review NFA decisions by police and the CPS. Of course, we want to make sure we make the right decisions in the first place.

What are we doing around that? We're working very closely with the College of Policing to enhance our training of both our specialist staff and our frontline staff. IICSA makes specific recommendations in reference to special measures for children. So, of course, we brought in achieving best evidence interviews. And now, a victim's testimony can be obviously played in terms of the digital recording of that, but we've also now progressed on to, in some areas, the examination and cross-examination also being done as recorded, as well, to again assist a victim within that area.

The Victims' Code: IICSA makes specific reference to the Victims' Code and the 12 rights within there, first published in 2005, I think. I think what's key within there, there is a right for victims to have a referral to support for victims. Yet IICSA found that very few victims were getting advocacy and support during an investigation stage. But, as we know, victims need different types of support, particularly around their mental health and well-being, and that just wasn't being provided or signposted. They have a right to be provided the information about the investigation, the trial and compensation, and this wasn't happening. They have a right to be informed about the outcome and appeal and how the offender will be managed, as well. And a right to have the knowledge and use of special measures as well. So good reference in IICSA, to make sure that we are fulfilling what is already within the Victims' Code and it is our responsibility to make sure is undertaken and progressed in a really professional, caring, empathetic way.

You mentioned survivors have a right to advocacy during investigations, but that very few victims and survivors are getting that advocacy. How do we improve access to advocacy during an investigation of child sexual abuse?

Ian Critchley:
I think there's a real challenge here in terms of advocacy, whether that's for children, whether that's for adult survivors, I see it across a wider area of vulnerability around advocates for domestic abuse as well. There is a critical role here for police and crime commissioners, to make sure there is good joined-up funding streams for the advocacy of such a service. I do believe — and one of the recommendations from IICSA was a joint inspection of the Victims' Code, and it does also obviously feature in terms of HMICFRS inspections as to how they are applying the Victims' Code, but clearly it goes beyond the policing responsibility here to other statutory partners as well.

I do think there needs to be a national review of both the funding and the provision of children's and adult survivors advocacy service, particularly around therapeutic support. We know only too well the pressure that's on services like CAMHS as well. And we know only too well that if we don't catch it early, and we don't intervene early with the right level of support and intervention, then we know that harm to that young person or adult survivor will get much, much worse. And there will be a cost to that. There will be a financial cost, because that will mean that that person will require services for a long time that haven't been provided at the earliest opportunity. But most sadly, there's obviously human cost of harm, and we will find that that person, that victim of crime, will be in and out of interventions for a long time, if not for the rest of their lives. So there's absolutely a moral requirement and a human requirement on us to improve the position that we're in now.

I've talked earlier on about the scale of child abuse: we're now dealing with over 100,000 crimes reported to us. Each one of those persons is a victim in their own right and absolutely deserves the advocacy that will help them through not just any criminal justice process that takes place. And that is important. And, you know, being confident that they've been dealt with in the most appropriate way is important, but much beyond, much beyond that. And I think there's a real stretch and strain on the advocacy service that needs a complete review and an overhaul that's recommended by IICSA.

In our conversation, Ian identified areas for improvements that sit outside of IICSA's 20 main recommendations, particularly the need for police services to improve the way they respond to victims and survivors.

Simon Bailey was Ian's predecessor as National Police Chiefs Council lead for Child Protection, serving in post for eight years. He is now a member of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. I spoke to Simon about the same topic: what changes are needed to improve the experiences of the criminal justice system for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse?

Simon Bailey:
For me, it starts with with the basics. And first and foremost — it's something I feel very strongly about, I feel passionately about, and have done my best to champion — and that's the importance of victims knowing that at the point of reporting their abuse, that they are believed. There is really significant academic research that has been done that talks about one of the biggest hurdles for victim/survivors to overcome is: "am I going to be believed to the point of reporting my abuse?" And knowing that they are reporting into a justice system that from the— at the start of that report — and I will clarify that — they are going to be believed, is essential. And victims, I think, are owed that right.

However — and this is where it's nuanced and it's important that there is real clarity around this — once the report has been taken, once the evidence has been secured as best it can be at that point, thereafter there has to be an investigation without fear or favour, and police officers, police staff, then need to go wherever the evidence will take them. And I have not spoken to a victim/survivor that doesn't agree with that approach. It is not a blind belief. It's important the victim come forward knowing that they will be believed, but also knowing that thereafter there will be a completely impartial investigation. And I think that has to be step one.

Step two: there needs to be, throughout the course of the investigation that the investigating officers, the investigating team, keep the victim survivor fully updated on progress. If they are saying they're going to call them at 11 o'clock tomorrow, they need to make that call. They need to keep them updated on the progress. And even if it's a call that says "there's nothing more I can tell you this amount of time, or there are no new updates", but just that engagement is so, so important.

And then, as the investigation progresses and they get to the point of the Crown Prosecution Service making that decision, my personal view is and it's so important that the Crown Prosecution Service should be making the decisions based about — a decision to charge or not — based upon the evidence that's in front of them. And they shouldn't be taking a bookmaker's approach. It shouldn't be based upon what's the likelihood here? If there is evidence there of abuse, then that evidence should be being put before a jury for a jury then to decide.

And then the final element for me has got to be that the criminal justice system, at this moment in time, is taking too long to deal with these cases. The statistics are there in the public domain, the number of days it is taking for the moment of report to charge, then to a trial. We have got to speed up the process, and we've got to be looking at the pilots that are taking place in terms of the dedicated sexual offending courts, I think that's really important, because the staff that are dealing with these cases, the court staff, the prosecutors, should be aware of the trauma that the victim has has suffered and they should be equipped to be able to deal with that.

And the courtroom should not become a hostile environment for victims and survivors of of abuse. Yes, you have to go through the judicial process. I completely get that. But the bottom line is that it should be done in such a way that the court staff, the environment, appreciates the trauma of what's happened and they — the victims/survivors — should be afforded the appropriate level of support and the awareness as they go into it. And there are ways of being able to deal with that. And you'll be aware of the conversations that have taken place around the pre-recording of evidence and what that might look like.

So I think that if we get those principles right, around belief, but not a blind belief; around the routine of keeping victim/survivors up to date and aware of the investigation as it goes; when the CPS are making the decisions, let's make sure it's a merits-based decision, not a bookmaker's decision; and let's then make sure that when a charge is made, that actually the judicial process is then cognisant of trauma that what is then the witness, the victim, the witness has then endured, and how you make the system as supportive as possible.

What steps would you take to make that system more supportive?

Simon Bailey:
I think the key thing is that the specialists working within those courts needs to be trauma-informed. They need to have that training. Specialist, independent sexual violence advisors need to be made available to the victims as well. And I think that's really important that they understand that.

And that when you are then dealing within that, in that particular court setting, you need to make sure that the support is right there for the victims; that the staff understand, that they have the right support, have an appreciation of what those victim/survivors have been exposed to, what what it's been like for them, the courage that they have had to to come forward and report it. And, on the back of that, you then create a very, very different environment.

Finally, is there any specific advice you would give to professionals working across the criminal justice system — in policing, in the courtroom  — on how to respond to the IICSA findings?

Simon Bailey:
I think the the most important thing for me, having operated on the policing side of the criminal justice system for 35 years, is to realise that you are not just dealing with a case number. You are dealing with a person. You're dealing with a victim. And that's why recommendation 14 of the inquiry talks about the importance of compliance with the Victims' code. And I think that is so important.

There needs to be further work done around that, and a joint inspection regarding compliance with the Victims' Code. There are some gaps and I think IICSA has identified gaps. There needs to be a review to look at the whole systems approach to the criminal justice response of what is taking place and the, you know, the recommendation is clear. The inspectorates carry out that regular joint inspection on victims' issues, because actually it's really important that the the victim/survivors are made to feel that they are being treated as a person rather than just another case that's going through the court system.

During our conversations, both Ian and Simon mentioned the Victims' Code. Recommendation 14 of the IICSA final report asks the UK government to arrange for a joint inspection of the compliance with the Victims' Code in relation to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. Here's Ian Critchley again to briefly explain what the Victims' Code is and how it protects children.

Ian Critchley:
The Victims' Code was brought in 2005. It's a statutory mechanism: the rights of all victims that needs to be delivered by criminal justice partners, and I've touched on some of those key rights in terms of referral to support; the victims being kept updated on the investigation; being provided with information about the trial and compensation; being informed about the outcomes and any, obviously, appeal.

But also how an offender is being managed, if they are sentenced to a custodial sentence, again, there are rights to be informed of release around it. Being informed about therapeutic and counselling opportunities; again a myth that the police has perpetuated in the past where we have almost prevented young people and children receiving therapy and counselling, saying it will harm any criminal trial — it doesn't. We need to deal carefully with, obviously, any third-party material, but there is good process in place around that.

And of course, within the Victims' Code, knowledge and use of special measures as well. So a really, really important piece of legislation for us, particularly when it comes to how we deal with child victims.

Producer: And I asked Simon to explain what gaps there are in the Victim's Code.

Simon Bailey:
I think probably the most the most important thing is — and I know IICSA were aware of this — is the concerns around access to special measures and how actually the quality of witnesses' evidence to the court is enhanced by affording them access to special measures. So again, I think it's all picked up in that compliance with the Victims' Code.

The code is not being consistently applied and followed. There were concerns around access to special measures, which were all designed around improving the quality of the victim's evidence to the court. So, that needs to be to be looked at. And, I believe in June of last year, the government responded to the consultation and talked about enshrining the Victims' Code into law. So again, I think that's a positive step forward.

Adjacent to the changes around limitation are the recommendations on making amends to victims and survivors. These include changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme and setting up a single redress scheme.

I asked Tomi Ogundele, one of the lawyers within the NSPCC specialising in child protection law, to outline the proposed changes to redress.

Tomi Ogundele:
So when it comes to redress: currently, if an individual was abused as a child in England and Wales, there are three ways they can seek compensation. This is by making a legal claim against their abuser in the civil court; through the criminal court, if their abuser is convicted; or from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

There was acknowledgement in IICSA's final report that victims and survivors were dissatisfied with the processes of civil litigation and criminal compensation, and that they had had negative experiences with seeking redress. So the inquiry recommends that the UK government establishes a single redress scheme in England and Wales, taking into account devolved responsibilities.

The recommendation outlines who would be eligible to apply. So essentially, victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation. There is a requirement that there must be clear connection to state or non-state institutions in England and Wales. There would be a deduction of any previous award from any payments under the scheme. And finally, applicants where their civil claims were previously rejected would be excluded from applying.

The scheme should provide payments to eligible applicants through a two tier system based on a fixed flat rate recognition payment, with the option to apply for a second tier payment. The application process must be accessible and straightforward, should run for five years, and should be funded by central and local government, with voluntary contributions sought from non-state institutions.

The redress scheme is not a substitute for criminal or civil justice systems, and it does not replace the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Thanks to Tomi Ogundele, Simon Bailey and Ian Critchley. And thank you for listening to the Recommendations for Change podcast series from NSPCC Learning.

In this series, we've explored the recommendations laid out by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and how they might contribute to a more robust, more effective child protection system in the UK. For more information about any of the specific topics covered in the series, we recommend reading the full IICSA final report.

You can also find more safeguarding and child protection resources on the NSPCC Learning website.

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this podcast, you can reach out to the NSPCC Helpline for support, call 0808 800 5000 or email This podcast series was produced in Autumn 2023.

All information was correct at the time of recording, but the world of child protection is ever-changing. To stay up to date, visit the NSPCC Learning website at