Together, Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), HMI Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HMI Probation (HMIP) have produced a report following joint targeted area inspections (JTAIs). The report considers ‘the practices of the individual agencies, as well as the effectiveness of multi-agency working arrangements’ in safeguarding children from sexual abuse in the family environment [1]. 

While there is no single definition for Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), Working Together state that it is:

‘…forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse.’ [2] 

Furthermore, there is no definition of what constitutes a family environment. However, in the JTAI report it is described as such: 

A family member, including a child or adult sibling, or by a person close to, or known to, the family. For example, this could be a family friend, a partner of a parent or other trusted adult. [1] 

Sexual abuse can have a long-term impact on a child’s emotional, social and educational development [3]. It is also linked to the development of mental health issues in later life [3]. Therefore, it is important to understand these terms to recognise how we can best safeguard children from sexual abuse in the family environment. 

A key finding from the JTAI report was that tackling ‘child sexual abuse in the family environment is not a high enough priority’ across national and local multi-agency forces [1]. Paul argues that investigating CSA in a family environment should be just as high a priority as child sexual exploitation [4].  

How can we fix this? 


While the report stated that ‘prevention is the most fundamental form of protection from child sexual abuse’ it found that preventative work was largely absent [1]. Paul tells us that “evidence-based strategies need to be in place to support agencies and professionals in improving the prevention, identification and response in this challenging area of practice”. [4] Paul argues, we must: 

  • Make Clear What Child Sexual Abuse in a Family Environment Is 

‘until we are clear as a society about what constitutes sexual abuse’ we will not have the knowledge and information to protect them [1].   

  • Understand How and Why Perpetrators Sexually Abuse Children  

Information about how and why perpetrators sexually abuse children has not been brought together in an accessible way for front line professionals. Frontline professionals cannot develop effective prevention programmes and strategies unless they understand details such as: how a desire to abuse children emerges; how perpetrators organise themselves and their access to children; and what their escalation patterns are [1]. 

  • Talk about Sexual abuse within the family environment  

To raise awareness sexual abuse within the family environment must be discussed and explained. Research has shown that most sexual abuse is carried out by someone known to the child and their family [5]. Despite this, most parents focus sexual abuse prevention discussions around ‘stranger-danger’ warnings [5].  Therefore, it is important to increase both parent and child knowledge of child sexual abuse. [1] 

We can learn from the success of the NSPCC PANTS Campaign which helps parents talk to children aged four to 11 about staying safe from sexual abuse [1]. The campaign teaches children ‘that their body belongs to them, and they should tell someone they trust if anything makes them feel upset or worried’ [6] 

The report goes on to explain the important effects of talking about sexual abuse in schools:  

‘We saw one example in which a school session for children about risks of child sexual exploitation had resulted in a disclosure of sexual abuse in the family environment’. [1] 

The NSPCC PANTS campaign also has a website that provides teaching resources for schools and early years guidance [6]. The NSPCC also has the Speak out Stay safe safeguarding programme, for children aged 5- to 11-years-old explores how to recognise signs of abuse. 

Alternatively, the City of York Safeguarding Children Board has an ongoing campaign, ‘It’s not ok’ [7]. The It’s Not Ok play and workshop is now available as a digital resource for secondary schools, community groups and practitioners [7]. 


  • Training to better identify abuse 

Often, professionals rely too heavily on children to verbally disclose abuse. Instead, it is important that we recognise, ‘understand and know how to respond to the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse’ [1].  

Paul told us that “When children have displayed harmful sexual behaviour, often it is solely their behaviour, not the cause, that professionals respond to” [4]. Instead, the report argues, professionals must ‘recognise the signs of abuse of a child and [know] how best to respond when they suspect a child is being abused’ [1].  

Brook, a sexual health charity for young people, has produced a Sexual Health Behaviours Traffic Light Tool. The tool provides training to outline multi-agency responses that help ‘professionals to identify, understand and respond appropriately to sexual behaviours in young people’ [8]. The Cornwall and Isle of Scilly Safeguarding Children Partnership recommend the tool for ‘distinguishing between ‘normal’ age-appropriate behaviour and behaviour that causes concern’ [3]. 

  • Known offenders 

Paul maintains that “there needs to be greater robustness and consistency in practice when managing known sex offenders in the community’ [3]. The report highlighted that often when abuse has been identified, lack of hard evidence means that ‘professionals do not always feel confident to address it head-on with the family’ [1]. This results in children being left with a continued risk of sexual abuse [1].  

It is important that social care professionals are ‘confident in challenging the police: just because there is not enough evidence to secure a conviction does not mean that agencies should retreat’ [1]. It highlights the importance of multi-agency working, to ensure the perspectives, skills and insights of different agencies are utilised [1].   

The NSPCC’s Women as Protectors programme helps ‘mothers and carers who are in contact with a man who poses a risk of sexual harm to children’ [9]. However, they should not have to rely on themselves as protectors. 

  • Support 

Often ‘practice in this area is too police-led and not sufficiently child-centred all’ [1]. Repeatedly social care and health agencies are not sufficiently involved in decision making. Consequently, “children and non-perpetrating parents and family members are not supported well enough, able to access the right support at the right time” [4]. Paul continues to explain that the joint targeted area inspections “did not see effective communications with children throughout the processes, in impacting children’s welfare” [4].  Health and social care involvement should be central to assessment and decision-making [4]. Furthermore, communities, organisations and the media need to work to create an environment in which children and adults are able to talk about sexual abuse more easily [4]. 

Safeguarding children requires a multi-agency response, this is true across all aspects of safeguarding arrangements. Paul concludes:  

“We can no longer stay silent on this issue. We have to talk about it and act. Everyone needs to play their part in identifying, preventing and tackling child sexual abuse in the family environment. There needs to be a greater emphasis on better training, support, supervision and resources for all professionals.” [4] 



[1] Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), HMI Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HMI Probation (HMIP). 2020. Multi-agency response to child sexual abuse in the family environment: joint targeted area inspections (JTAIs) 

[2] Department for Education. 2018. Working together to safeguard children.  

[3] Cornwall & Isle of Scilly Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures. 2020. Child Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment

[4] d’Iverno, P., 2020. The 2nd Annual Working Together to Safeguard Children and Young People Conference. 

[5] Dixon, L., Perkins, D., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C., Craig, L. 2017. The Wiley Handbook of What Works in Child Maltreatment: An Evidence-Based Approach to Assessment and Intervention in Child Protection 

[6] NSPCC. Talk PANTS. 

[7] YorOK. It’s not ok.  

[8] Brook. Sexual Behaviors Traffic Light Tool.  

[9] NSPCC Learning. Women as Protectors

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Together, Ofsted, the CQC, HMI Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services and HMI Probation have produced a report following joint targeted area inspections (JTAIs). The report considers the practices of the individual agencies, as well as the effectiveness of multi-agency working arrangements.

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