I have 20 years of experience as a social worker, from the front line to leadership, and I know that awareness of child abuse and being able to identify it can play a vital role in keeping children safe. Recent, tragic media reports have no doubt affected us all and serve as a reminder that we can all do more.
In March, the Together, we can tackle child abuse campaign was launched by the Department for Education. The aim of this campaign - the first of its kind run by Government - is to encourage members of the public to report any suspicion or concern of child abuse, in order to get help to children more quickly.
The message is a simple one; people living in communities can all play a role in helping to protect children and young people from abuse and neglect. People don't have to be absolutely certain about their suspicions; if you have a feeling that something's not right, talk to the local children's social care team who can look into it. Making this call will lead to having a conversation and discussing your concerns with qualified people who have experience of helping to think through these sorts of reports, and they will know how anxious people might be about phoning in the first place and what the next steps might be.
Most children live in happy and loving homes, but not all. The reality of family life is very different and any child or family, anywhere, may at some point need help from social workers to support them to make changes so they can grow up in safe families; the earlier they receive this help the better.
Our research showed that a third of people who suspect child abuse do not report it. One of the biggest barriers to reporting is that people fear being wrong and the consequences of that - potentially breaking up a family. We want to reassure people, that in reality information is usually gathered from many sources and a report will usually form one piece of a much bigger picture. That said, a small piece of information could be the missing piece of the puzzle, so it is very important. Again, you don't have to be certain; if you have a feeling that something's not right, you should talk to the local children's social care team who can look into.
The research also showed that the welfare of the child is a key motivator to drive people to report their concerns and the local children's social care team are regarded as the go-to authority for child welfare. People are unclear however as to what the role of a social worker is. There remains a strong suspicion that their role is to solely remove children from their families in any situation of child abuse and neglect. Well in some circumstances where children are at risk of significant harm that could happen, but mostly social workers will act to support children and their families to stay together.
Our research also told us that if people feel they are part of their community's response to child abuse and neglect, this reduces their fear of reporting and encourages them to report. 'You' are one part of a bigger picture and might just be one voice of concern in a community, but your voice might be important - so if you're worried about a child then talk to the local children's social care team who will look into it.
In 2014/15, more than 400,000 children in England were supported by social workers because someone noticed they needed help. Research indicates that children and young people suffering abuse may make multiple attempts to tell someone . However, talking about this is a difficult subject and it may be more subtle than just coming out with it or showing a visual sign. We all have a role to play in protecting children and young people. This campaign is the start of us raising awareness and asking people to notice. Together, we can tackle child abuse.
If you're worried about a child, visit gov.uk/reportchildabuse to get the number for your local authority.