21/02/2017 12:02 GMT | Updated 16/02/2018 05:12 GMT

Leading The Way In Tackling Child Sexual Abuse

Recent high profile cases like those in Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale have shown us all that we need to get better at tackling child sexual abuse.

It's a crime that happens in every corner of our country, affecting children from all walks of life, ethnicities, cultures and classes. It robs children of their childhoods and tears families apart.

The experiences relayed to me by victims and their parents are truly horrific. But, for a crime which has such a devastating effect on its victims and their loved-ones, there is still so much we need to learn about how to tackle child sexual abuse and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Protecting children from and supporting victims of child sexual abuse - including exploitation in which children are coerced into sexual activity in exchange for presents, money, alcohol or emotional attention - has long been a priority for Barnardo's, which is why I'm so proud we will now be taking a central role in the fight against it.

Barnardo's has been chosen to head a new government-funded Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse to develop a deeper understanding of this crime so we can protect more children and help them to recover better.

The Centre of Expertise is at the heart of the Home Secretary's plan to tackle the sexual abuse of children and experts from top universities and statutory agencies, as well as from Barnardo's, will be working together to improve local and national responses. Together we will develop a greater understanding of what works so the best practices can be implemented to tackle abuse and exploitation.

Keeping children safe is at the heart of Barnardo's work. We are the largest provider of child sexual exploitation services in the UK, with more than 20 years' experience, and have a strong track record of working with researchers and evaluators to build the evidence base of our services and of delivering evidence-based programmes.

We, as a society, need to gather stronger evidence to improve our understanding of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

We have 40 services across the four nations of the UK and last year our direct child sexual exploitation support services worked with more than 2,400 people. We know what child sexual abuse does to victims and their families.

I recently saw first-hand how three young women, who had been through unimaginable abuse, had turned their lives around with the help of their Barnardo's staff who are trained to work with young people who have experienced high levels of trauma and distress

One father of a boy who had been groomed online and abused by several men at just 13 years old told me his son had become the shadow of the happy, outgoing child he once was. The boy's abuser had persuaded him that sexual interaction with so-called friends would be acceptable. In a few short months he had changed from being a close and loving son, to a person who saw his parents and others who were trying to help him as the enemy.

To effectively tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation we, as a society, need to gather stronger evidence to improve our understanding of this terrible crime. We need a much better understanding of who the perpetrators and victims are, how we can identify victims and intervene to help them quicker, what kind of interventions work best and what preventative measures can be taken so more children are protected from sexual abuse.

Over the next three-and-a-half years the Centre of Expertise will identify, generate and share high quality evidence on what works to prevent and tackle sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Together we have a strong track record in undertaking research and evaluation and providing specialist support to victims and children at risk of this crime.

I have blogged in the Huffington Post before asserting that there is no quick fix for child sexual exploitation or abuse and that certainly remains the case. But the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse will give us a deeper understanding of the scale and nature of the problem, as well as how we can fight against it, which will prove vital in protecting children.