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Policy response to child sex abuse (CSA) in Education (Wales).

The Criminal Justice System for England and Wales is governed by the Ministry of Justice, Wales is not responsible for the making of criminal justice laws. Nevertheless, devolved services accountable for honoring legislation and policies is mostly the responsibility of Welsh Government (Secretary of State, 2018). This review will consider the importance of legislation, the Sexual Offences Act 2003, to the structure of Welsh policy making. England and Wales have similar child protection processes and collaborate with organisations such as the NSPCC, nonetheless this review will in particular address Welsh policy response and training. It explores the requirements for working with children and the protective measures within, such as registration with the Education Workforce Council, the DBS, and child protection training. Focus will then shift to Welsh policy; support and provisions for educators, and consideration given to policy processes and whether it seeks to adequately eliminate risk to children by providing a high standard of child protection/safeguarding guidance and requirements. It is also important to explore how the education system deal with allegations and incidents of proven educator perpetrated CSA and CSE.

The Welsh government must honour some UK safeguarding requirements as well as produce their own. First and foremost, there are legislative considerations, this review will now highlight improvements/ adjustments made to the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 was changed to include offences against 16- and 17-year-olds, everyone under the age of 18 is considered a minor regardless of age of consent (McAlinden, 2006). Although originally aimed at the online world, sexual grooming behaviour is criminalised meaning no physical or cyber harm needs come to a child but there is evidence providing reason to believe there is motive or intent (International Watch Foundation, 2021). The harshness of these changes has been challenged on the grounds that no child was physically harmed nor had the perpetrator offended beforehand, but that view has been rejected by the courts and sentencing continues to be categorised based on level of offending behaviour; category one being more serious and category three being less serious (Stoneking, 2021).This is an important point to make because a lot of the sexual offences committed in an institutional setting involves grooming behaviour, therefore a robust policy response to education CSA should include key details such as this. The challenges presented against the harshness of this change is possible evidence of the lack of consideration for the severity of these actions, this is something which should also be incorporated into training to ensure those working with children understand such issues are more than simply overstepping the mark. An additional UK requirement the Welsh Government must adhere to is the DBS, all who work with or around children must have a satisfactory enhanced DBS (DBS , 2021). The DBS is not without its limitations, used as a vetting tool its relationship is closer aligned with the criminal justice system than it is the education or public service systems. The DBS can only provide details of a criminal conviction, it does not provide details of accusations or non-criminal reprimands. More detailed information could be obtained via a Police National Computer (PNC) check. A PNC check will provide details of all arrests, altercations, cautions or any other interactions with the police (Home Office, 2020). A PNC must not be mistaken for a possible replacement vetting tool because a major issue with perpetrators of CSA is they go undetected for long periods of time, they are often trusted and considered good people, this suggests many lead a double life, one without any prior interaction with the criminal justice system.

According to the Welsh government it is the role of local authorities and those in the education environment to protect and safeguard children. They recognise the education environment has the capacity to detect and prevent CSA, they also acknowledge it is their responsibility to provide these institutions and services with the guidance and provisions they need to achieve this (Education Wales, 2021). All educators and learner support workers (LSW) of government funded or part funded establishments must be registered with the education workforce council Wales (EWC, 2015). This registration system is not universally applied to all education establishments in Wales, those in private settings are not required to register. The EWC deals with allegations of professional misconduct via a fitness to practice panel which is made up of officials appointed by the Welsh Government (EWC, 2019), there is no evidence to suggest specific requirements for these roles such as a history of teaching. Nevertheless, everyone working within the education environment must be child protection trained, this training must take place during the first term of recruitment. The training should be offered by the education establishment and is available on the HWB government website (HWB, 2021). Furthermore, child protection and safeguard training are also an option for education establishments, some resources are offered free, but some come at a cost (NSPCC Learning, 2021).Reputable sources of origin but minimal detail by way of CSA awareness; nothing on perpetrators, patterns of offending, victim impact, and most concerning is the absence of institutional abuse awareness and detailed discussion on the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the criminalising of grooming behaviour (HWB, 2021; NSPCC Learning, 2021). To summarise child protection training; each establishment and local authority must have a designated safeguard lead and every employer or volunteer must participate in child protection training, volunteers and staff are to report concerns to the safeguard lead (Education Wales, 2021). The training does not outline a process of intervention, rather a record and report system.

Welsh Government policy response to CSA aims to inform practitioners and raise public awareness (, 2019). Their guidance encourages professionals to “familiarise themselves with the culture and beliefs of the families they work with(Welsh Government, 2021). The focus on families suggests these policies are created off the back of mainstream statistics, mainstream statistics highlight concerns for intrafamilial abuse. Institutional abuse is not discussed in the context of educator perpetrated, nevertheless peer on peer perpetrated CSA in the education setting is discussed in some detail (Welsh Governement et al, 2020). The educator is responsible for assessing peer on peer sexualised behaviour, they are expected to do this with minimal knowledge and guidance. Welsh Government policy supports this assessment by directing them to a harmful sexual behaviour framework produced by the NSPCC. If when aligned to the criteria of these guidelines they feel the behaviour is alarming or cause for concern it becomes their legal duty to record and report in accordance with Section 130 of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 (Welsh Government, 2021). An issue passed onto Children’s Services should be deemed an appropriate response nevertheless it is not always the case, the problem is not necessarily solved at this stage. A report jointly commissioned by Barnardo’s and Welsh Government contain social worker testimonies stating that social workers are unsure what to do with a disclosure of CSA, neither are they allowed to ask questions around this abuse (Roberts, 2020). This suggest the safeguarding structure around the education environment has flaws of its own, if this report is representative of much of Wales, then it can be suggested that Welsh Government Policy is failing the educators by not providing an adequate system of support thus putting the children of Wales at further risk. Furthermore, a feature of Welsh policy response is Finkelhor’s’ fourth pre-condition of sex abuse “victim resistance” (Welsh Governement et al, 2020). This review agrees there are occasions victim resistance can be an effective deterrent; nevertheless, it must reiterate children more often than not lack capacity to resist or respond (Leceric et al, 2010). This review is of the opinion it should never be on the children to safeguard themselves.

Welsh Government must honour UK and Welsh legislation and policy, this review can conclude that there are some concerns in these provisions despite the two governing systems. This review highlighted the amendment to the sexual offences Act 2003 because of its criminalisation of grooming behaviour which features around institutional abuse. This review is of the opinion that this element of the Act should feature in Welsh government safeguarding policy, nevertheless there is no evidence to suggest it is. Another UK requirement the Welsh government must adhere to is the DBS check, it is assumed the DBS check is a good vetting tool however this review highlights the fact the DBS is only responsible for informing of criminal convictions, which when dealing with perpetrators of CSA is a poor process because they can go undetected for long periods of time meaning they can offend without having a criminal conviction. It has been established that the PNC check would provide more detail than the DBS, nevertheless this is not a requirement. Registration to the EWC is not a universal requirement for professionals working in schools in Wales, it does not cover those working in private establishments therefore the Welsh government is not ensuring the schools of Wales have the same requirements. It is the Welsh Government who appoint the members to council for the EWC and it is these people responsible for the adjudication of unprofessional conduct with no known specific requirements for these roles. Child protection training is the responsibility of the schools and the local authority, most of which is minimal and done online, educators are trained to operate under a record and report system. Welsh Government policy mirror that built off the back of mainstream statistics with focus on family or peer on peer abuse. Educators are steered away from all consideration of educator perpetrated CSA as if it does not exist. Finkelhor’s fourth precondition of sexual abuse features in Welsh Government policy which forms the basis of this reviews conclusion; safeguarding in education in Wales is heavily reliant on the DBS check, and victim resistance.


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