08/12/2015 10:31 GMT | Updated 07/12/2016 05:12 GMT

A Lesson in Supporting Victims of Child Abuse

Everyone who works with children wants to help and protect them. But as a recent report revealed that only one in 8 cases of child sexual abuse is being reported, something is clearly not working.


The report from the Children's Commissioner highlights not only the amount of unreported abuse - but the amount of children not receiving the help they need. Without support and treatment, the consequences to mental and physical health can escalate, reaching far into adulthood.

Action is needed to bring more cases to light, to help more victims recover - and to prevent further abuse in the future.

School is a key environment in which to start. Staff have real potential to make a difference: from school nurses to support workers, everyone needs to be made aware of this problem - and receive training to help tackle it.

This includes the skills to deliver high quality PSHE lessons. Sex and relationships education is crucial for children and teenagers: many victims, though they were suffering the effects, did not recognise their treatment as abuse until they had the right education. Understanding what makes a healthy relationship is as important a skill as any other being taught in our classrooms.

PSHE is equally important for letting children know that support is available - and how to access it. Research has shown that children trust school staff, particularly teachers, but they need to know how and when they can talk to someone and access the support they need.

Education environments can also help to open up dialogue around these topics. Schools could be the place to spark wider societal change that brings sex and relationships to the forefront, enabling children and young people to be more open around these topics. There is no one definition of child abuse and many will be victims of many types from violence to emotional harm and neglect. For victims to come forward, these need to be accessible subjects both in and out of the school setting.


We are a long way from allowing victims to either come forward or be identified, and we need to jumpstart our efforts if we are to improve this critical situation. These efforts should begin within schools. According to Ofsted, PSHE is severely lacking in at least 40% of the country's schools, and many, including the RCN, believe it needs to be standardised - and compulsory. Meanwhile school nurses have the expertise not only to deliver effective sex education but also to train other staff, they so far remain an untapped resource - without investment many simply will not have the capacity to take on these critical projects.

It may be a difficult issue to face, but it is much harder for the victims - especially those not receiving the help they need. We need policy in place to ensure all school staff have the training and the skills to form a safe school environment in which children and young people can come forward and receive effective support when they do.