Safeguarding Children from Sexual Exploitation: The Role of the Social Worker

Published: 2023/07/06 Number of words: 2329

1.1 Background and Rationale

It is proposed that this paper will look at the role of the social worker in safeguarding children from sexual exploitation, in respect of their legal duties, policies and practices, and what can be done to prevent such exploitation in the context of the United Kingdom. The abuse and sexual exploitation of children is, of course, an omnipresent concern in contemporary society, and there is thus no shortage of reports of such abhorrent news stories in the mass media. For example, around a decade ago in 2010, five men from Rotherham were jailed for sexual offences against underage teenage girls (BBC News, 2015, n.p.). However, according to the BBC News (2015, n.p.), this proved to be only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, so to speak, and two years after their arrest, in 2012, an investigation by a journalist for The Times newspaper found that thousands of such crimes were being committed each year by a network of Asian men in South Yorkshire; and following this, some 29 people were charged with child exploitation offences in Rotherham alone after an inquiry found that 1,400 children had been abused over a 16-year period (Martinson, 2014, n.p.). As such, it is clear that more needs to be done to protect children from such exploitation in the UK, working within the legislative framework of the Children Act 1989, which underpins the current child protection system in England and Wales. Therefore, this study aims to examine how children can be better safeguarded from sexual exploitation in the years to come, and to specifically look at what the role of the social worker might be in this.

Recently, the UK government vowed to spend £40 million on tackling child sexual abuse in Britain, with this money being used to try to protect youngsters from exploitation and trafficking, and to hunt down offenders (Sheldrick, 2017, n.p.). In recent years, there have also been a spate of high profile cases of child sex abuse, including the involvement of children’s TV celebrities such as Jimmy Savile (Halliday, 2014, n.p.) and Rolf Harris (Evans, 2014, n.p.), while the trafficking of children in the UK and beyond for sexual exploitation has been revealed to be a big problem (Hollington, 2013, n.p.). Indeed, this has become such a big controversy in recent times, that Hollington (2013) has stated that: “The system currently in place to protect vulnerable children from sexual exploitation is so inadequate it is almost as if a sexual predator had designed it. It is contributing to the trafficking and abuse of children instead of preventing it” (n.p.). This then, is a damning indictment of the current system that is in place. However, the Director of the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection, Will Kerr, has said that: “The additional funding [recently pledged by the UK government] will strengthen and enhance our victim identification and child protection adviser capabilities, to target the most serious child sexual exploitation offenders” (Hollington, 2013, n.p.). Therefore, it seems that there is now an acknowledgement of the sexual abuse that children have suffered both in the present epoch, and in the past in the UK, and that there is enough government, media, and public support to now do something meaningful about it.

Furthermore, to add to the child sex abuse that has been occurring within British borders, it has also recently been revealed that for several decades, UK children have been sent across the world to new lives in institutions in which they were sexually abused. In fact, Symonds (2017) reports for the BBC News that British is perhaps the only country in the world that has exported vast numbers of its children, with an estimated 150,000 children being sent abroad over a 350 year period to places all over the world; but among these, hundreds of migrant children suffered from maltreatment and sexual abuse. However, it is only relatively recently that people have started to come forward in any real numbers to recount their experiences of abuse as a child. For example, one investigation into Fairbridge Farm School in Molong in Australia found that 60% of children at the school were sexually abused, which is a study based upon some one hundred interviews (Symonds, 2017). However, until now, it seems that institutions have covered up such historical child abuse cases. As such, current cases of child sex abuse must be considered in this historical context, as this is by no means a new phenomenon, but something that has been going on for many centuries. Ergo, the breadth and scope of child sex abuse in the UK that has been revealed in recent years acts as a firm rationale for conducting this study; so that this body of knowledge can be added to, and so that the role of the social worker can specifically be examined in safeguarding children from such sexual exploitation in the contemporary era. Moreover, it is also important that the lessons of the past can be learned. This then, is an important area of study, and one that could provide a firm foundation for future research done in this area.

1.2 Hypothesis and Research Questions

The core hypothesis for this paper then, will be that:

“Social workers have a big role to play in safeguarding children from sexual exploitation within a wider network of care professionals”.

However, in addition to this primary hypothesis, a number of supplementary research questions will also be considered throughout the course of the paper, which will include (but will certainly not be confined to):

  • Does a lack of inter-agency cooperation, and the lack of a centralised database between these agencies, lead to higher instances of child sexual exploitation?
  • Does a lack of resources in the social work profession mean that many potential cases of child sexual abuse are missed?
  • Should teachers and GPs provide the first line of defence in the fight against child sexual abuse, and refer any suspected cases to social workers?
  • Is a lack of resources in the police (and the cutting of funding and staff) leading to higher levels of child sexual abuse?
  • Are social workers that work with child victims of sexual abuse more at risk of suffering from burnout?
  • Should custodial sentences for child sexual exploitation offenders be made harsher?
  • Should more government funds be dedicated towards safeguarding children from sexual exploitation given that there is a general consensus that society should protect children?
  • Do social workers have adequate training for dealing with victims of child sex abuse?
  • Does the media vilify social workers when cases of child sexual abuse occur?
  • Is the state ultimately responsible for protecting the human rights of children?
  • Are children better protected from sexual exploitation now than they were in the past?
  • Is the prevalence of the sexual exploitation of children directly correlated with state funds available for the social services?

Thus, this hypothesis and the research questions shall be revisited during the conclusion of this paper in order to ascertain whether these areas of investigation have been given any illumination as a result of this research.

1.3 Aims and Objectives

The aims of this study then, are to examine the role of the social worker in safeguarding children from sexual exploitation, and this will be done in a number of ways. To begin with, after Chapter One and the ‘Introduction’ to the study, a comprehensive ‘Literature Review’ will be carried out in Chapter Two, which will include a review of a variety of types of sources, such as books, peer-reviewed journal articles, newspaper articles, reports, and government policies, and this shall look in more depth at the different types of child sex abuse that occurs in the UK, and the policies and practices that are currently in place to guard against such crimes. This will then be followed by an explanation of the ‘Methodology’ to be used in this study, in Chapter Three – which will involve a meta-analysis (Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins & Rothstein, 2011; Wampold, 2000; Schulze, 2004; Pigott, 2012) of a number of primary research studies done in this area, along with a discussion of any ethical implications and perspectives to be used to inform the study. A ‘Findings’ chapter in Chapter Four shall then present the findings of the study, which will include some thematic analysis, triangulation, and a comparing and contrasting of the data from the various empirical studies. Finally, this will be followed by a ‘Discussion’ section in Chapter Five, which will link the findings back to the Literature Review, and ask what the implications of the findings are for theory, policy and practice – and what more could be done in this area in order to mitigate child sex abuse in the UK. Finally, some carefully considered and yet tentative conclusions will be offered in the ‘Conclusions’ chapter in Chapter Six, based upon the findings of the study, while any strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of the research will also be acknowledged. Furthermore, the overall contribution of the work to knowledge in this area will be assessed, and ultimately its value as an academic piece of work. However, it should be noted that due to the limitations of time and resources, no actual empirical data will be collected throughout the course of this study; although it is hoped that by collating primary studies done in this area, and drawing upon a large cumulative sample of participants, this will provide a useful resource to anyone working in this field of study – which can then be built upon with further empirical work in this area.

1.4 Plan and Timeline

In order to ensure the successful and timely completion of this study, the following timeline and structure shall be used:

1.41 Plan (For Total 10,000 words Dissertation)

  • Cover
  • Abstract (200 words)
  • Chapter One: Introduction (1,000 words)
  • Chapter Two: Literature Review (2,000 words)
  • Chapter Three: Methodology (1,000 words)
  • Chapter Four: Findings (3,000 words)
  • Chapter Five: Discussion (1,800 words)
  • Chapter Six: Conclusions (1,000 words)
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices

1.42 Timeline (approximately 6 months)

Write literature review4 weeks
Write methodology chapter2 weeks
Write introduction2 weeks
Write findings chapter6 weeks
Write discussion4 weeks
Write conclusions chapter2 weeks
Bibliography and appendicesOngoing throughout
Write abstract and complete cover1 week
Write and edit 2nd draft4 weeks
Proofread and edit final draft1 weeks

1.5 Closing Statement

To close with, then, the core hypothesis for this paper, that: “Social workers have a big role to play in safeguarding children from sexual exploitation within a wider network of care professionals”, will hopefully be given some support. It is clear from a preliminary study of relevant literature and news reports that CSA is a major problem in the UK and beyond, and affects a significant proportion of the population. Moreover, it is also clear that people who experience sexual abuse as children have a greater propensity towards suffering from mental illness, having behavioural problems, or being inclined towards substance abuse; all of which could have a major impact upon the NHS, and state funds, in addition to having a high social cost. In addition, the human rights movement also encompasses protecting children’s rights (Levesque, 1999), and so there is a general consensus in society that children must be protected from sexual abuse (and indeed all kinds of abuse). Nevertheless, despite this broad consensus, and an acknowledgment of the societal consequences of CSA, the sexual abuse of children continues to be a problem in the UK and beyond, not just now, but also across the ages, and at present there is little sign of it being mitigated to any great degree. As such, this provides a firm rationale for a study of this nature, and more research like this needs to be done in order to inform policymakers and impact upon practice in this area in the UK.


BBC News (2015) ‘Rotherham child abuse: The background to the scandal’, BBC News [online],, Date accessed 9/10/2021.

Borenstein, M., Hedges, L.V., Higgins, J.P.T. & Rothstein, H.R. (2011) Introduction to Meta-Analysis, E-Book: Wiley.

Evans, M. (2014) ‘Rolf Harris guilty of child sex abuse’, The Telegraph [online],, Date accessed 9/10/2021.

Halliday, J. (2015) ‘West Yorkshire police investigating 180 child sexual exploitation cases’, The Guardian [online],, Date accessed 9/10/2021.

Hollington, K. (2013) Unthinkable: The Shocking Scandal of Britain’s Trafficked Children, London: Simon & Schuster.

Levesque, R.J.R. (1999) Sexual Abuse of Children: A Human Rights Perspective, USA: Indiana University Press.

Sheldrick, G. (2017) ‘Amber Rudd vows to end ‘horror’ of sickening child sexual abuse in UK with £40m plan’, Express [online],, Date accessed 9/10/2021.

Martinson, J. (2014) ‘Rotherham child sex scandal: Andrew Norfolk on how he broke the story’, The Guardian [online],, Date accessed 9/10/2021.

Pigott, T. (2012) Advances in Meta-Analysis, London: Springer.

Schulze, R. (2004) Meta-Analysis – A Comparison of Approaches, Toronto: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers.

Symonds, T. (2017) ‘The child abuse scandal of the British children sent abroad’, BBC News [online],, Date accessed 9/10/2021.

Wampold, B.E. (2000) ‘Meta-Analysis in the Social Sciences’, Asia Pacific Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 67-74.

Cite this page

Choose cite format:
Online Chat Messenger Email
+44 800 520 0055