Schools risk missing child abuse because of a lack of school nurses, Ofsted claims

A lack of school nursing services means pupils who are victims of familial sexual abuse could slip through the cracks and go unnoticed by authorities, according to a new report

Ofsted has joined forces with fellow government watchdogs HMI Probation, Care Quality Commission and HMI Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service to provide a “multi agency response” to child sexual abuse in the family environment.

The report, published today, finds that professionals across all fields rely too heavily on children speaking out about abuse – even though they are unlikely to do so.

It states that a joint targeted area inspection carried out by the inspectorates found a lack of school nursing meant “there was less involvement and knowledge about children who might be at risk of, or subject to, child sex abuse in the family environment”.

This was reported as being particularly problematic as “a significant number of professionals lack confidence in talking about sexual abuse within the family environment”.

Many professionals, including teachers, also “do no not have the skills and knowledge they need” to identify the issue and breach the subject with victims”. The report added this can lead to situations where “sexual abuse is not identified as the main risk for the child”.

The inspectorates say better training and support for those on the front line is vital.

Last year a school nursing conference was told there are now 30 per cent fewer school nurses, approximately 2,100, than in 2010.

The decline has increased the burden on special school staff who are being forced to carry out complex care procedures themselves due to a lack of support.

A Schools Week investigation previously discovered school leaders are terrified of reprisals if something goes wrong under their watch as staff are forced to fill the gaps left in NHS provision.

Elsewhere, the Ofsted report found educational programmes, through schools and health services, play a key role in addressing child abuse as they target a large number of people at one time and help people recognise abuse in the familial environment.

The report found staff were better suited to deal with the issue at schools where the local authority had improved understanding of the signs and indicators of sexual abuse.

The report included one example where a session on child sexual exploitation resulted in a disclosure of sexual abuse in the family environment and ultimately to the successful prosecution of the perpetrator.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said “prevention is the best form of protection” and to stop abusers “we must talk openly and honestly about the signs and symptoms”.

She added: “As it stands, children abused in the home are going unseen and unheard because agencies simply aren’t capable of keeping them safe. The lack of national and local focus on this issue is deeply concerning and must be addressed.”

The report also found current practices are too police-led and focus on the criminal investigation at the expense of children, while poor quality criminal investigations can leave children unsafe.