Every year, we work with thousands of children who have experienced child sexual abuse, within the family or outside the home.

More and more often, we're working with children who are experiencing other harms and adversity – such as criminal exploitation, sexual exploitation and online harm.

Safer childhoods infographic 1

All children have the right to live safe from violence or abuse of any kind, so alongside our specialist one-to one support, we integrate safeguarding approaches into our work, recognising that families, peers, schools, community spaces and online platforms all have a role to play in shaping the welfare and safety of all children.

Current landscape

Child sexual abuse is an urgent challenge within society. Most child sexual abuse remains hidden and is never reported to, or uncovered by, official agencies. While the true scale will always remain unknown, and it’s widely accepted that estimates will significantly underestimate the actual number of children experiencing sexual abuse, studies suggest that 15% of girls and 5% of boys experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 16.

 Our services

In 2019-20, we supported 6,400 people through our child abuse and exploitation services. This included 2,900 in our child sexual exploitation services, 2,000 in our missing services, 350 in our female genital mutilation services, 700 in our counter-trafficking services and 400 in our harmful sexual behaviour services. The outcomes recorded for those accessing our child sexual exploitation direct support services, can be found at figure B (below).

The outcomes scores indicate that the biggest changes those accessing these services experienced were ‘improved recovery from sexual abuse’ and ‘improved mental health and wellbeing’. 

Safer childhoods infographic 2

These figures demonstrate the complexity of our work. Many of the children we work with who’ve been impacted by sexual exploitation are likely to have been subject to other adverse childhood experiences, including associated forms of abuse and trauma. Many of these things are impacted by wider factors and processes, almost always outside the control of children or Barnardo’s. 

This is why we’ll continue to refine our approaches to supporting children, trial new ways of working, and work at building capacity in wider systems. We’re also developing improved, more meaningful ways to capture the impact of our work.

How we are changing

This year in our child sexual abuse core priority programme, we’ve focused on understanding the breaks in the system which impact the identification of abuse and each person’s ability to recover from child sexual abuse.

We’ve co-designed programmes with children, young people, parents, carers, families and communities, and work hard to make sure that children who we know are under represented, or have fewer chances to have their voice heard, are central in this. 

This has included:

  • working with children under ten (and their non-abusive parents and carers), to understand their experience of the gaps in the systems and the services offered to them, so we can improve the recovery pathways and support available 
  • working with children from the Pakistani community to look at how we could better identify the sexual abuse of children within this and other Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, and explore how support services can be more culturally appropriate
  • working alongside boys and young men impacted by childhood sexual abuse and reflecting on their experiences, so we can improve the way we identify, assess and intervene in these cases