Improving professional practice in the investigation and management of intrafamilial child sexual abuse: Qualitative analysis of serious child protection reviews

Joanna Garstang, Jonathan Dickens, Marivjena Menka, Julie Taylor

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Background: Local multi-agency case reviews are regularly held in England when children have suffered significant harm from abuse or neglect, including from child sexual abuse (CSA). Most CSA takes place within families, is common but under-reported and can cause long-term harm.

Objective: The aim was to analyse English child protection reviews relating to intrafamilial CSA to identify improvements for professional practice.

Participants and setting: Local Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews (LCSPRs) and Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) relating to serious incidents of intrafamilial CSA occurring between 01 April 2017 and 31 March 2020.

Methods: LCSPRs and SCRs were obtained from the National Case Review Repository and thematically analysed.

Results: There were 243 reviews, of which 25 featured intrafamilial CSA. The main themes related to perpetrators, vulnerable families, and professional practice. Half of perpetrators were known by services to have previously abused children, but issues with professional practice enabled them to continue. Most children did not disclose CSA verbally showing challenging or sexualised behaviour; but professionals lacked knowledge and confidence on how to intervene without verbal disclosure, which limited safeguarding actions. Non-engagement by families with services was common, with some non-abusing parents complicit in abuse and deception. Significant neglect occurred in half the families, which diverted professional attention away from CSA.

Conclusion: CSA is deliberate abuse of children involving considerable deception by perpetrators in contrast to some other types of child abuse. This difference in abuser behaviour makes child protection more difficult, particularly when professionals do not recognise and respond to children's non-verbal disclosures.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106053
JournalChild Abuse & Neglect
Early online date21 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

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