National Institute for Study and Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
2nd June 2015
Watch the debate here:
Creating a national “what works” institution to pull together the best practice and the strongest evidence on prevention of sexual abuse is the most important contribution that this Parliament and Government can make together. I first proposed the creation of a national institute to study and prevent child sexual abuse 26 years ago to the then Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher, and have done so repeatedly ever since. Now, after years of Governments of all parties being reactive and inactive, I am delighted to welcome real signs of progress. May I put on record my thanks to the officials and Ministers involved? One Minister, Lynne Featherstone, has now left us, but I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), in her place, and of course the Minister who will reply to the debate. Their contribution to this very serious issue has been second to none, and it would not have happened without them and colleagues in all parts of the House working together on it.
“establish a new Centre of Expertise to identify and share high quality evidence on what works to tackle child sexual abuse.”
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?
I repeat: why? Let us imagine we had acted a quarter of a century ago—think of the body of work that a national institute could have produced by now on what works, what does not work, and what policies can be applied at lots of different levels in a multi-agency situation. We could have had an absolute treasure chest of things that would help us tackle child sexual abuse. Had we acted then, countless numbers of victims could have been saved from abuse and the development of
thousands of potential perpetrators could have been prevented. The creation of a national institute is a chance for us to make a start now—to banish the feelings that we all have of powerlessness and anger and instead substitute a clear, practical solution.
Mr Allen: I apologise for not giving way because I have so little time to get these things on the record.
I have the good fortune to write extensively, and on a cross-party basis, on early intervention and I set up Nottingham as the first early intervention city. As a result, the Prime Minister asked me to write two independent reports on early intervention for Her Majesty’s Government. The reports made many recommendations, the key one being the creation of a “what works” centre for early intervention: an independent charity, rooted in evidence-based policy that would share knowledge, promote best practice and link up early intervention services across the whole country. With the Government’s help, I was able to create the Early Intervention Foundation, which has been running for almost two years and has become the national authority on all early intervention evidence and practice.
One of the most important weapons against child sexual abuse will be evidence-sharing. Many local authorities, charities and agencies do great work, but all of us are stronger if we learn from each other and share wisdom and successes. In order to have that and credibility, it is essential that the institute is broadly constituted and broadly governed, and is not the property of one successful bidder, however eminent they may be.
“Any local authority or police force that denies that it has a problem, or thinks that it is only happening elsewhere, is wrong.”
Louise Casey’s superb report earlier this year on child sexual exploitation showed that, even today, many localities continue to deny or totally misunderstand the scale of the problem. A national institute, in the words of the Home Office report,
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A new national institute should never deal with an individual case or initiate inquiries or inquiries on scandals or celebrities. Its reputation must be for hard evidence—it must be unimpeachable and apolitical—so that it will be as trusted, I hope, as the Early Intervention Foundation. Above all, it must research the root causes of child sexual abuse. Why do people perpetrate these unimaginable crimes? How do we prevent abusive behaviour from developing in the first place? Those questions must be addressed, because understanding the causes will allow us to take action to prevent these horrible episodes in future. Simply recognising and breaking the inter- generational nature of much of this offending will save thousands of broken lives.
One enormous side effect of a national institute would be the local and national economic benefits. Early intervention has been proven to save taxpayers billions of pounds. Tackling the root causes of sexual abuse would mean much less money was spent on large inquiries and criminal trials and, above all, on lifetimes of massively expensive care for damaged individuals and families.
With a national institute, we can start to do something about this issue by helping people and ensuring that they have the social and emotional capability to make choices—the choice not to become an abuser—and the strength to resist grooming when it is taking place. Although there is no magic wand to prevent child sexual abuse from happening, there is a growing body of national and international programmes and practices that can be tested, evidenced and replicated so that they are costed, ranked and accessible to all the agencies that need to access them. They can build on good parenting and the social and emotional bedrock for babies, children and young people that is at the heart of early intervention.
Child abuse is about inhumanity, cruelty, domination and dysfunction; our alternative is about empathy, love, nurture and humanity. When people have social and emotional capability, it is difficult to go wrong. If they do not have that, they might deliver adverse childhood experiences that, at their most dysfunctional and extreme, can include the sexual abuse of children.
By the time of the next election, the national institute for the study and prevention of the sexual abuse of children could be celebrating its fourth birthday. It could have a full menu of best practices and programmes. It could have a website, accessible to all agencies. It could be advising perhaps 30 champion localities throughout the country. It could have a clear, independent, charitable governance structure. It could be at the heart of an international network and be a respected, credible organisation. But most of all, it could have enabled tens of thousands more children to have been raised without the life-wasting curse of sexual abuse.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that tackling all forms of abuse and exploitation of children is a priority for this Government, as it was for the last Government, and it remains essential that how we tackle abuse—as a Government, as professionals and as a society—is underpinned by robust evidence of what works and what will deliver the best outcomes for children and young people. However, the fact remains that we need to know much more about the approaches that are most effective; we need to know not only what services work best for young people who have suffered abuse but how to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.
Edward Timpson: I will give way very quickly, because I want to ensure that the hon. Member for Nottingham North receives a full answer.
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Edward Timpson: I will reiterate this point later, but there is no doubt that there is evidence not only in the United Kingdom, within which Northern Ireland plays a key role, but internationally. We need to ensure that we use the best evidence we can gather to inform practice on the ground. We should seek it wherever it exists and not suggest that we have all the solutions here at home. I am sure that anything that could contribute to that process would be welcome.
Why is that so important? Well, we cannot escape the reality that many victims have been failed by the system. They have been failed by a lack of sensitivity, by a lack of understanding, by a lack of willingness of professionals to listen to and believe them, and by a system that has been too quick to jump to conclusions and to blame.
Local areas say that they are frequently told what “failure” looks like but no one has articulated what “good” looks like. So we need to learn not only from areas where things have gone wrong but from areas where things have gone well. We need to garner that knowledge from parts of the country where all professionals are striving to do their best for children and young people; where agencies work closely, and share data and intelligence; where action is taken swiftly; and where services are provided to help victims and to bring perpetrators to justice. Practitioners working in this way are doing so because of their commitment, their experience and their professional judgement, but too often they are hampered by process and by lack of evidence. As the hon. Member for Nottingham North reminded us, he first proposed, as far back as 1990, a national institute to tackle child sexual abuse and, as he put it, the root causes of child sexual abuse. He was right to propose it then, and he is right to raise it again now, and I can assure him that we are fully committed to achieving this shared vision.
That is not to say that our collective understanding has been at a complete standstill since the 1990s, but there is still much we do not know and there are gaps across the full range of work with children and young people, families and perpetrators. That is why establishing a new centre of expertise is a real opportunity to build a shared understanding of how best to address and tackle child sexual abuse, not just to help us to make decisions in government, but to support and improve practice by social workers, the police, the NHS, youth workers, schools, early years settings and many others, all of which the centre will need to work with.
We have already established a £7 million fund to support victims of child sexual abuse. I have seen from my own experiences growing up with foster brothers and sisters the impact that abuse and neglect can have. To improve our response to such trauma, we need to know what therapeutic and other support is most effective, and what young people themselves feel they need and for how long. Just as vitally, we need to understand more about the behaviours of offenders. How can we prevent them from offending and reoffending? What leads to the successful disruption of perpetrators? What factors help to achieve a successful prosecution?
Edward Timpson: We have heard now from two important regions of the UK. We have a shared purpose in ensuring that the knowledge we impart to all professionals, wherever they are practising in our country, is based on the best possible evidence. As part of that process, I would welcome any contributions from other parties and parts of the UK that want to learn from the work we are doing to ensure that we are not all trying to reinvent the same wheel.
Edward Timpson: I am not going to make that commitment on the Floor of the House now. I am not sure it is the purpose and remit of the centre, but it is an
area the Government keep under review and I note the hon. Lady’s interest in the DBS system. I am sure it is something we will return to later in this Parliament.
We are working across Government to explore what form the centre should take. We want to learn from the success of other organisations that have driven evidence-based practice, including “what works” centres, such as the Education Endowment Foundation, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the Allen-inspired Early Intervention Foundation. We want to understand what has worked in terms of governance, funding and working with local areas, so that we can make the most of this endeavour and do it in such a way that everybody feels they are part of it and have invested in it as a long-term solution.
Across Government, we are already supporting projects that will help to build our knowledge in these areas. The £100 million Department for Education innovation programme, for example, is funding four areas to develop and test effective ways of supporting children and young people, including a secure children’s home in County
Durham, which will test a model of support for young people who have been sexually exploited. Across South Yorkshire, we are testing the use of specialist foster carers to provide safe placements for young people at risk of child sexual exploitation. The outcomes of these projects will provide a good starting point for the centre of expertise.
We need to prevent future abuse and to help those who have suffered so terribly, and it is for that reason that I am enormously grateful for the powerful voice that the hon. Gentleman raised on this issue this evening. I am grateful for the contributions from other Members, too. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer of advice, and I have no doubt that it will be followed up by a chance meeting at the back of the Speaker’s Chair in due course. As he has so eloquently argued, it is essential that we make the investment needed in this research now, so that in 25 years’ time we do not need to have the same debate again.
Question put and agreed to.