New Report from the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse

a message fOR independent reviewing officers

Dear Colleagues,

I hope you are well and had a lovely, if not the usual, summer.  I am very pleased to inform you that today the CSA Centre has published: ‘Piloting the CSA Practice Leads Programme in adult substance misuse services: Evaluation report’. The report is now live on our website and we will be promoting it across our channels, please do support us to share this report and the learning on how we can improve professional confidence in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse.

Improving the professional response to child sexual abuse across all agencies and services is essential both in terms of reducing the long term impact of sexual abuse on individuals and their families, but also on society as a whole.  An earlier version of the CSA Practice Leads Programme was designed by the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse (the CSA Centre) for use with social workers in local authority children’s services. The evaluation of that pilot is available here.

This evaluation report focuses on a revised version of the CSA Practice Leads programme developed in conjunction with Change Grow Live (CGL), a large, national charity which primarily supports adults with drug and/or alcohol dependency support needs. CGL was keen to be part of this programme in order to further improve services for people beyond its core offer; it saw this as an opportunity to learn what was needed to do things better.

There are strong links between being sexually abused as a child and experiencing numerous physical, mental and emotional health difficulties as an adult.  Experiencing CSA often has pervasive and enduring negative outcomes extending over the lifetime of a victim.  Research with adult survivors of CSA has demonstrated frustration that even in adulthood services often don’t ask about whether or not they have experienced abuse.  This pilot arose from an approach to the CSA Centre from CGL who were seeking to develop a more proactive approach to CSA

In 2019 the CSA Centre delivered the intensive programme of training and development aiming to build CGL staff awareness and understanding of CSA and the established links between CSA and substance misuse, mental health problems and other difficulties in adulthood and encourage staff to routinely ask service users whether they have been sexually abused as children and equip them to respond appropriately when abuse is disclosed.

The CSA Practice Leads Programme delivered at CGL comprised two main strands: in-depth training for selected CGL staff over five one-day sessions and support for these staff to apply their learning to their own practice and cascade that learning to their colleague’s teams and managers.  The sessions covered key areas for understanding and addressing CSA identified through the CSA Centre’s research, scoping work and engagement with the sector and discussion with CGL including the scale and nature of CSA, what’s known about perpetrators, the relationship between CSA and substance misuse, barriers and enablers to disclosure, approaches to asking about CSA, supporting disclosure and responding to disclosure.

This evaluation report provides evidence of the programme’s quality and value in enabling CGL staff to take a proactive approach to CSA identification and response.  Key findings include:

  • There was strong evidence of the programme’s fit with an organisation like CGL working primarily with adults with drugs or alcohol support needs and/or mental health issues.
  • There was considerable evidence of the programme’s impact on participants’ knowledge, skills and confidence in talking to service users about CSA, as well as changes in their attitude and skills.
  • The CSA Practice Leads reported receiving an increased number of disclosures of CSA, including from people used the service for years and not previously disclosed, this increase in disclosure follows substantial changes in practice following the programme, particularly amongst the CSA Practice Leads themselves but also among the staff around them, who by the end of the programme were beginning to ask service users routinely about CSA. 

The CSA Centre is committed to supporting practitioners to improve our collective response to child sexual abuse, as we look to the future development of the CSA Practice Leads Programme we will consider how to best support CSA Practice Leads to continue disseminating their learning and how to review the longer-term impact the programme has on local authorities’ response to concerns of CSA.

This pilot has created a model that the CSA Centre can adopt and adapt for other organisations in the future, and the insights gained can be applied to support other organisations working with adults facing a range of issues including mental health, alcohol and substance misuse.  The CSA Centre is now further testing delivery of the CSA Practice Leads programme in two different contexts: delivering to social workers in more than one local authority in a region and to groups of multi-agency professionals (social workers, health practitioners and police) in individual localities.  In both of these cases we will be delivering the programmes remotely and both programmes will be evaluated. 

If you have any questions about our CSA Practice Leads Programme or our wider work, please don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Best wishes,


Lisa McCrindle

Policy advisor

Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse

Barnardo House, Tanners Lane, Barkingside, Ilford, IG6 1QG

Tel: 07922 574184


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