Warning issued over online abuse
Social workers struggle to spot the warning signs that a child is being targeted for online sex abuse and need more support to help combat the problem, new research has revealed.
A survey of social workers revealed that half of them felt concerned about dealing with online sexual abuse or behaviour, while more than two thirds of social workers felt they needed more support with child protection cases involving online abuse.
The survey, carried out by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and children's charity the NSPCC, questioned 327 social workers online in May about their experiences.
It found that 50% said they do not know how to recognise the signs of online sexual abuse of children, while 36% felt they did not know the right questions to ask to identify and assess online sexual abuse. And although almost half (49%) said a quarter of their sexual abuse cases now involve some form of online abuse, 30% said they did not feel confident dealing with child protection sexual abuse cases using the internet.
A third (34%) of social workers surveyed said they do not feel confident about understanding the language used by young people online, and 47% said they were not knowledgeable about how young people communicate via social networking sites.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: "Keeping children safe from sexual abuse increasingly means protecting them from offenders who use technology to target their victims, such as grooming in chatrooms or online social networks.
"And vulnerable young people are now being coerced into sharing explicit images of themselves via mobile phone messages and apps. So it's vital that social workers dealing with child sexual abuse cases understand these techniques and can talk to children about them.
"It's worrying that the majority of social workers surveyed by BASW are struggling to understand how online child abuse happens. We know they are doing a tough job under pressure and shouldn't need to be technology experts but they do need to have a grasp of the basics. The NSPCC is developing an e-learning course in partnership with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) to help social workers get up to speed on this rapidly evolving world."
BASW is backing an NSPCC training tool, Keeping children safe online. The online learning programme was developed by the charity to educate child protection professionals about the risks the internet can pose to children.
BASW professional officer Nushra Mansuri said: "The number of cases in which the internet plays a part in the grooming and abuse of children is rising, and social workers need to be equipped to recognise the warning signs. Social work educators and employers must keep pace with new technology, and training on the risks posed by social media should be an intrinsic part of learning."