Social workers raise online grooming fears

Unidentifiable young girl using an iPad The technology used by young people has left some social workers behind

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Many social workers lack confidence and know-how when it comes to dealing with online grooming and sexual abuse of children, a survey has suggested.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said they desperately needed specialist training.

An online survey of 327 social workers found 74% wanted more support, while half felt concerned about dealing with online sexual abuse or behaviour.

One said social workers were "way out" of their depth.

Warning signs

Almost three in four of those surveyed said they needed more support with child protection cases which involved "an aspect of online and complex sexual abuse".

The survey also found:

  • 17% did not know how to "assess the risks" to a child when there was an "online dimension", such as internet grooming, to the case
  • 20% said they did not know the "warning signs" of what online sexual abuse looks like
  • 43% lacked confidence about the language used by young people talking about the internet, and more than a third said they did not know the right questions to ask in order to identify and assess online abuse

"The number of cases in which the internet plays a part in the grooming and abuse of children is rising," said the BASW's Nushra Mansuri.

"Social workers need to be equipped to recognise the warning signs."

Janet Foulds, former chair of BASW: "We do need to equip social workers with the latest knowledge on how offenders are targeting and grooming children"

One of the social workers, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "I have worked with a young girl who experienced horrendous sexual and violent threats via her mobile phone... and it was very difficult to know how best to proceed."

Another said: "We are way out of our depth and training measures are needed without delay."

The NSPCC charity said it had developed an online training guide for child protection professionals - backed by the BASW - to educate them about the risks the internet posed to children.

Chief executive Peter Wanless said paedophiles were using chatrooms and social networks to groom victims, adding that young people were being "coerced into sharing explicit images of themselves via mobile phone messages and apps".

"It's worrying that the majority of social workers surveyed by BASW are struggling to understand how online child abuse happens," he added.

"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."

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