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BASW: Further discussion needed on new CSE measures

The Prime Minister will reveal a package of new measures to combat child sexual exploitation (CSE) at a summit bringing together leaders from local authorities, children's services, health professionals, Chief Constables and experts in child protection today in Downing Street.

The measures will include plans to consult to extend the new criminal offence of 'wilful neglect' of patients to children's social care, education and elected members, which carries a penalty of up to five years imprisonment if convicted. A new national whistleblowing helpline for public sector workers to report bad practice will also be established. Organisations that support victims will also receive additional funding.

Maris Stratulis, England Manager at The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said: "Our starting point must always be what best protects children from harm and any additional investment that can help support victims is welcome.

“We totally support public accountability and transparency so welcome any measures that will make it easier for social workers and other professionals to whistle blow.

“By their very nature, local authorities are political places. Social workers can find themselves hamstrung by fear of repercussions when speaking out.

“When they do raise concerns within an organisation, they also have little influence on what action will be taken. We have to be realistic; social workers go into the job to help children but they are human and are themselves vulnerable within the workplace.

"Staff in a number of agencies can feel that they’re putting their livelihoods and careers on the line with no chance of support, leaving them less able to help vulnerable children.

“Social workers can also feel under pressure to deal with situations on their own rather than making managers aware of increasing concerns.

“It is totally unacceptable for institutions to attempt to cover up abuse of children to protect their reputation. But we have to acknowledge these days being a senior member of staff in the public sector carries a lot of responsibility and a lot of risk.

“A number of reports have highlighted instability, high turnover and poor governance and leadership in a number of authorities and this needs to be urgently addressed.

“Decisions to recruit senior staff or to terminate contracts must be taken in accordance with organisational policies and employment law, not as a result of political scapegoating.

"Further discussion is needed about what constitutes the legal threshold of individual and corporate responsibility, since institutions have differing structures of governance and accountability.

“The individualisation of social work services has also had a detrimental effect by helping to mask the group and community trends of behaviour. Social workers can only be effective if they understand the dynamics of the communities in which they work. This must become a key priority.

"Whatever changes are put in place, it is vital that we create a culture in which children are listened to."