Written evidence submitted by the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action for Children, The Children’s Society, National Children’s Bureau, Just for Kids Law and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales (VIC0019)
- This submission sets out how leading organisations in the children’s sector believe the draft Victims’ Bill could be strengthened to ensure the needs of young victims and witnesses are embedded in the new legislation. This will ensure that children receive better support and treatment when they experience harm and are in contact with the justice system.
- This response has been compiled by the NSPCC in partnership with Barnardo’s, Action for Children, The Children’s Society, National Children’s Bureau Just for Kids Law and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. Together we want to see a justice system which meets the specific needs and wishes of children and ensures specialist support is in place for children to recover, no matter where they live or how they engage the justice system.
- The children’s organisations who have contributed to this submission welcome the publication of the draft Victims’ Bill. The publication presents an opportunity to transform young victims’ experience of the criminal justice system and the level of support to which they have access. We believe there are four tests which the Bill should be measured against for it to truly deliver for young victims:
- The Bill must make specialist support available for child victims
- The Bill must take the opportunity to make the criminal justice system more child-centred
- The Bill must embed a joined up, whole system approach to supporting child victims
- The Bill must protect children who are victims of exploitation
- The draft Bill needs to do more to measure up to these tests. Currently, it does not address the lack of specialist support child abuse victims face, nor does it make the criminal justice system more child-centred through the strengthening of special measures where children give evidence. In terms of a whole system approach, the Bill replaces national accountability measures with only local ones, with enhanced data collection provisions again only being set at a local level. The Bill does not give recognition or further protections for child victims of exploitation.
- The Bill rightfully sets outs a wide definition of a victim, but this is not consistently applied throughout the legislation and the Bill does not acknowledge the statutory recognition of child victims of domestic abuse, as made in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. The Bill needs to become more directive in terms of what is included in the Victims Code of Practice so that children’s needs are addressed, including those who do not make contact with the criminal justice system. The commissioning measures rightfully encourage collaboration, but do not address fundamental issues around a lack of provision and resources, and may share issues with similar provisions in the Children Act 2004. Neither child specialist independent advisors, nor the Child House model of child sexual abuse support provision are mentioned in the draft Bill.
Does the draft Victims’ Bill meet the Government’s aim of delivering a cultural shift in victims’ experiences by putting their interests at the heart of the justice system?
- It is imperative that children’s needs are at the heart of the Victims’ Bill. Young witnesses and victims of abuse involved in the justice system have often lived through unimaginable trauma. These young people need to be properly supported so they can share their evidence with a court to help the criminal justice system prevent perpetrators from causing further harm. Inadequate support, including for those who do not report their experiences to criminal justice agencies, also risks retraumatisation. The needs of children who have experienced abuse and young witnesses in the criminal justice system have been overlooked for too long, and the Victims’ Bill presents an opportunity to finally address the issues they face.
- The Bill as currently drafted does not deliver the cultural shift for child victims that is required. For example, children are currently only mentioned twice in the Bill, and only in relation to their parent where the parent has been a victim of domestic abuse. This is despite the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 recognising children as direct victims of domestic abuse where they have been exposed to that abuse.
- We believe there are four tests by which the Bill should be measured against. If the draft Bill reflects these tests, it would help meet the key challenges faced by young victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system and in accessing support:
- Test one: the Bill must make specialist support available for child victims
- We would like to see inclusion of a statutory duty on all relevant public authorities to commission community-based specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence support services for all victims (regardless of their age), including young people in their own intimate abusive relationships. Research shows that child victims of domestic abuse face barriers to accessing support in two thirds of local authorities, while children face an inconsistent network of agencies and services after experiencing sexual abuse. The draft Bill contains no such duty and no commitment to expanding the level of provision to children who have faced abuse. The Government resisted inclusion of such a duty in the Domestic Abuse Act but gave a commitment to consult on it in the Victims’ Bill consultation which was not followed through.
- Child victims of abuse must be entitled to access specialist support regardless of whether they have contact with the criminal justice system. Most children do not make a formal disclosure of their abuse. The Victims’ Commissioner has previously found that often when a victim does not press charges or pursue a criminal investigation, they are not referred to supportive services. It is welcome that the draft Bill recognises victims where there has not been a charge, but child victims must have guaranteed access to support even where they make no contact at all with the criminal justice system.
- Expansion in provision of Child Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (CHISVAs) and Child Independent Domestic Violence advisors (CHIDVAs), including specialist training to work with children. CHISVAs are crucial in guiding young CSA victims and witnesses through the criminal justice system, but provision is patchy. Recent Government investment in ISVAs and IDVAs comes with no assurance that any will be trained to work with children. The draft Bill does not mention child-specialist advisors, leaving child victims reliant on services designed for adults.
- Child abuse victims must have access to therapy support, including pre-trial therapy. The drawn-out criminal justice process, as well as serious delays to criminal courts hearing certain child abuse cases, can cause further distress and therefore add to the mental health impact of the original abuse. The services that were offered to CSA victims tend to be generic mental-health services, as opposed to the more effective specialist post-sexual abuse services. The draft Bill does not secure additional mental health services for young victims of abuse or tackle distressing court delays.
- Test two: the Bill must take the opportunity to ensure the criminal justice system is more child-centred
- The Bill should make cross-reference to, and underline the importance of, access to special measures including registered intermediaries in the criminal courts. NSPCC research has found that provision of registered intermediaries was not meeting demand. The draft Bill does not mention special measures or registered intermediaries despite their importance in supporting children to give their best evidence.
- More integrated, child-centred support services should be established to meet the needs of victims of child sexual abuse. This includes building on models of best practice such as child houses (as highlighted in the Government’s own Tackling Child Sexual Abuse strategy). Currently, there is only one Child House in England and Wales – the Lighthouse in Camden. Although the draft Bill seeks collaboration between service commissioners, this is not developed in sufficient detail and does not provide the firm direction needed to enable the kind of joint, multi-disciplinary service provision that makes a difference to children to develop as the default model for provision of support services. Strengthened provisions on collaboration in the primary legislation would then need to be supported by guidance and resource from Government.
- Test three: the Bill must embed a joined-up, whole system approach to supporting child victims
- Commissioners must collaborate to consider and meet the needs of child abuse victims, as well as those young people displaying harmful behaviours. Research has found significant siloeing and complexity in the current commissioning landscape for domestic abuse, while the picture for sexual abuse services is fragmented. It is welcome that the draft Bill introduces a duty on public authorities to collaborate in the commissioning of services, but the Bill’s explanatory notes explains that “this duty will not include new requirements to commission services”, despite there being a lack of services for young victims of abuse. Review of the duty to collaborate in the Children’s Act 2004 demonstrates the need for substantive support from central government beyond procedural duties.
- There must be accountability mechanisms added into the Bill to ensure that where victims’ entitlements – including those for child victims – are not delivered, there are consequences and systems in place to address gaps. With the Victims Commissioner’s responsibility for national oversight of the Victims’ Code being removed in the draft Bill, there is no national accountability mechanism around provision to victims.
- There must be better data collection around children’s experience as victims of abuse. There is currently no central and consistent data collection around children’s journey through the criminal justice system or their experience as victims of domestic abuse. The draft Bill only addresses localised data collection rather than the national picture.
- Test four: children who are victims of exploitation must be protected
- The Victims’ Law must recognise the experience of, and protect, child victims of criminal exploitation, through inclusion of a new legal definition of child criminal exploitation. Barnardo’s research has found that children were often criminalised for the abuse and exploitation they have suffered, partly down to a lack of understanding of this form of exploitation. The draft Bill does not contain a definition of child criminal exploitation.
- Child victims of criminal exploitation must be provided with support regardless of whether they appear as a witness or defendant in criminal proceedings, with disclosures of criminal exploitation being fully investigated and responded to. Child criminal exploitation is growing in prominence, yet children who fall victim to it are often left unidentified and unsupported. The draft Bill does not address the issues faced by victims of exploitation.
- Children who have convictions related to the abuse or exploitation they have experienced should still be entitled to compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, and the scheme’s process must not add further trauma. Currently, child victims of sexual abuse and other serious crimes can be excluded from the scheme, even though their offending may be clearly linked to exploitation or abuse they have faced. The draft Bill does not expand access to compensation to those young victims who may also have been coerced into committing offences as a result of their exploitation.
The Bill’s definition of victim
- We welcome the draft Bill’s inclusion of witnesses in their definition of victim in section 1. The inclusion of witnesses also should necessitate that through the Victims’ Bill, young witnesses in the criminal justice system are provided with victim support services such as therapeutic support to aid recovery, including pre-trial support, support from child independent sexual violence advisors (CHISVAs) and child independent domestic violence advisors (CHIDVAs) and special measures while giving evidence such as communications support from a registered intermediary.
- NSPCC research into the experience of young witnesses of abuse, Falling Short?, has found a lack of availability of special measures. Young witnesses for whom intermediaries were appointed seemed more likely to make an informed choice about how to give evidence. Disappointingly, the research found that registered intermediaries were both underused and under-resourced. There were further limits on the availability of other special measures such as accompaniment of young witnesses by a neutral supporter of their choice; closing the public gallery during young witness evidence in sexual offence cases; and giving evidence from another court location or a non-court site. Availability of non-court remote live link sites was uneven, with some areas having none.
- It is critical, however, that children are not treated just as witnesses or bystanders when they are exposed to abuse. Being exposed to domestic abuse as a child can undermine a child’s basic need for safety and security. It can have a serious effect on their behaviour, brain development, education outcomes and overall physical and mental wellbeing. Children who are exposed to domestic abuse between two parents are also more likely to experience other forms of abuse or neglect. Children being exposed to the child abuse of a sibling by a parent can also cause considerable trauma and lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It is for these reasons that our organisations fought for children to be recognised as direct victims of domestic abuse where they are exposed to that abuse. The Government recognised the power of these arguments and amended the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 to make this legal change in the definition of domestic abuse victim.
- However, in the draft Victims’ Bill there is a glaring inconsistency with this updated definition in the 2021 Act and the Government’s earlier acknowledgement of the need for a change given the evidence base on the impact of exposure to domestic abuse on children. In fact, the definition of victim seems to be inconsistent throughout the draft Bill. Victims are defined in section 1 as those who have been subjected to or witnessed harm, but in section 10 a victim of domestic abuse is defined (in relation to support from IDVAs) as someone “within the meaning of section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act” who “is a primary victim of domestic abuse… by virtue of being subjected to such conduct”. This clause expressly excludes child victims of domestic abuse from this definition of victim. Section 9 similarly mentions “victims of domestic abuse and their children”, disregarding the fact that children can be victims of domestic abuse too. The draft Bill should include the entire definition of domestic abuse victim as it appears in the Domestic Abuse Act that includes children, as legislated by the government last year, and enacted this year.
The Government’s proposal to put the overarching principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation and set out key entitlements in secondary legislation, consulting on changes to the Code once the Bill is in force.
The key changes the Government should consider making to the Victims’ Code, including consideration of those already proposed by the Government in its response to the consultation.
- The proposal to put overarching principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation while the code of practice itself is put into secondary legislation is a sensible way forward. This enables the Bill to set out the framework for victims’ rights that must be adhered to whilst enabling a degree of flexibility that ensures the Code itself can be updated more easily as needed in light of emerging evidence about victims’ needs and experiences. However, the primary legislation must become more prescriptive in terms of what the code of practice contains. Subsections 2(3)-2(5) merely suggest what the Secretary of State ‘may’ include. We would expect the placement of the Victims’ Code on statutory footing to be stronger.
- The Secretary of State must be directed to ensure there is specialist support available to child victims. As set out above, child victims of abuse face a postcode lottery in terms of tailored support in the community, therapeutic support, support from independent advisors and support to give evidence by registered intermediaries. It is vital that the Victims’ Bill helps address this inconsistent support picture for child victims. The Secretary of State must also be directed to ensure that support services receive sufficient and sustainable funding. The recently released Victims Funding Strategy does not direct new structural funds towards the provision of victims’ services. SafeLives research has found, for example, that a significant boost in central funding is needed to deliver domestic abuse services for the whole family, including adult, teen and child victims as well as perpetrator programmes. Disappointingly, the explanatory notes behind the draft Bill, however, sets out the Government’s view that the new duty for commissioners to collaborate does not require new provision.
- Explicit requirements for those who do not make contact with or withdraw from the criminal justice system should also be on the face of the Bill. The draft Bill currently states that “in determining whether a person is a victim for the purposes of this Act by virtue of any criminal conduct, it is immaterial that no person has been charged with or convicted of an offence in respect of the conduct”. Although it is welcome that a charge or conviction is not required, it is not made clear that provision of support will be assured to those young people who make no contact with the criminal justice system at all. Most children do not make a formal disclosure of their abuse, and the most common reason for child sexual abuse cases not progressing is victims not supporting further action. There are a number of possible reasons for children not wanting to report or continue with criminal justice proceedings. Many have feelings of guilt or shame attached to experiences of abuse, while research has found that some children have a fear or mistrust of the police. Insecure immigration status is a significant consideration that migrants make in deciding whether to report abuse or exploitation to police. The Victims Law consultation paper itself highlighted the importance of victims receiving support whether they report a crime or not, and the Victims’ Commissioner has previously found that when a victim does not press charges or pursue a criminal investigation, often they are not referred to supportive services. It is therefore imperative that the Secretary of State is mandated in the code of practice to direct commissioners to provide support to those who do not make contact with or withdraw from the criminal justice system, particular where they have been victim of child abuse.
The Government’s proposals to amend the role of the Victims’ Commissioner.
The Government proposals to place a duty on the relevant criminal justice agencies (the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts & Tribunals Service, Youth Offending Teams and HM Prison and Probation Service) to collect data and keep under review their delivery of the Code.
The Government’s proposals on the role of the inspectorates, including an improved focus on victims, and a new power for the Government to direct aspects of their work.
- Overall, the accountability measures contained in the draft Bill place an emphasis on local and individual responsibility rather than national and systematic accountability. We think this opens up a gap that needs to be addressed. Accountability provisions must speak to issues in the system, rather than just localised pictures. Currently, not enough is known about the challenges young victims in the criminal justice system. NPSCC research released in January found that prosecutions for child sexual abuse have more than halved between 2016/17 and 2020/21, while convictions fell 45% over the same period. The time taken for child sexual abuse cases to reach court and be completed has increased by 5 months in the last 3 years – the average time being 1 year and 10 months last year. When similar issues were detected in relation to adult rape prosecutions, the Government rightfully launched the End to End Rape Review to understand the root causes. No such review has been launched for child sexual abuse cases, and the proposals in the draft Bill, by not maintaining or introducing further national oversight, will not result in an improved systematic understanding of these challenges. It should be noted that the recently released Care Review and National Panel on Safeguarding report recognised the need for regional join-up, national accountability and Government oversight, including from Ministerial and Secretary of State level. The Victims’ Bill should take an approach consistent with these Government commissioned reports by emphasising national accountability as opposed to being limited to local measures.
- Amending the Victims’ Commissioner’s role and transferring their responsibility to monitor compliance with the Victims’ Code of Practice to PCCs will result in no national accountability measures in relation to the Code. Transferring this responsibility to PCCs has further issues. Not all PCCs are members of their Local Criminal Justice Boards, and those who are do not have a direct mandate over the participating organisations other than the police. Also, there is not strong governance above PCCs, which makes it difficult to escalate issues or concerns to a national level. PCCs are also responsible for commissioning victims’ services, meaning they are not external actors in relation to Victims’ Code of Practice (VCOP) provision. These factors make PCCs unsuitably placed to carry out VCOP oversight alone. Such issues are confounded by the fact that the effect of non-compliance in the draft Bill is limited to the admissibility as evidence in criminal or civil proceedings. There is no system-wide response to non-compliance and this provision is vague in its meaning.
- Placing a duty on local criminal justice bodies to collect data and keep under review the delivery of the Code is welcome, but this must be additional to a duty on national criminal justice bodies to collect standardised data to build a clearer picture of the challenges faced by young victims and witnesses of abuse. Local, unstandardised data will not build this systematic picture. Due to the current way in which crime data is published, it is very hard to track a crime committed against children from recorded offence through to prosecution and sentencing. This makes it hard to see why, for example, there is such a significant disparity between the number of child sexual offences reported to police and eventual convictions. In March 2020, the ONS released a compendium of data on child abuse and the criminal justice system in England and Wales, covering the period up to March 2019. This included statistics and research on child abuse from across government and the voluntary sector, giving a clearer picture of child sexual abuse victims’ experience of the system. However, this compendium and many of the data sets below it were ad hoc rather than regular releases. Further, due to the way this data is currently collected, these figures do not capture certain sexual offences committed against 16 and 17-year-olds, such as rape, as well as sexual assault committed against children over the age of 13. The Victims’ Bill must mandate regular and complete collection of data on children’s experience of the criminal justice system.
- The new joint inspection regime is welcome but specific responsibility to inspect matters related to the experiences and treatment of child victims is missing and should be added.
Whether the legislative steps proposed by the Government will lead to an improvement in the commissioning of support services?
- We think there are opportunities to strengthen the Bill to improve the commissioning of support services, particularly for young victims and witnesses.
- Young abuse victims face a number of issues in the commissioning landscape for domestic abuse and sexual violence services. In relation to domestic abuse, it has already been noted above that Action for Children research found significant variability in the level of provision for children and young people. SafeLives found numerous issues with the current commissioning landscape, particularly with regards to multi-agency working. This included structural differences between areas, a plethora of different multi-agency responses, short-term piecemeal commissioning for specialist services, a lack of understanding of coercive and controlling behaviour, services being siloed, decisions being made in isolation and only at a high threshold and information not being shared effectively.
- In relation to sexual abuse, we have set out above that there is not enough resourcing for therapeutic support, CHISVAs and special measures such as registered intermediaries. Fragmentation is a further issue in commissioning for victims of CSA. Currently, children who are victims or witnesses of sexual abuse face multiple interviews with social workers, the police, health professionals, CHISVAs, therapists, court staff and those involved in the justice system. Contact with such agencies takes place in a variety of settings, which are unlikely to be child friendly. Children can be traumatised by having to give an account of their abuse to multiple professionals in multiple locations. They can also then face long waiting lists to access specialist therapeutic support, while the victim and their families are left to navigate the complex web of agencies themselves. The current system is not child-centred, and does not achieve the best results, either for children or the criminal justice system.
- By establishing a duty for commissioners to collaborate, the government has taken a positive first step in addressing the issues around fragmentation and lack of coordination of service delivery. It is also welcome that in preparing the strategy, commissioners must consult those representing the interests of victims, but we would like to see a specific requirement to consult those representing child victims to ensure their specific needs are considered.
- The established duty will also not address the fundamental issue of a lack of resourcing for services for children who have been victims of abuse, resulting in a lack of accessible services. As highlighted above, the Government’s explanatory notes on the draft Bill expresses their position that “this duty will not include new requirements to commission services”. Funding was made available in the 2021 Spending Review for victims’ services, but this was limited to ISVAs and IDVAs, with no assurance that children will benefit from specialist advisor provision. The Victims Funding Strategy also does not address central resourcing issues for victim support, including children’s specialist services.
- The fundamental issue of a lack of central resources is why we are supportive of a funded statutory duty on relevant public authorities to commission community-based specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence support services for all victims. The Domestic Abuse Act rightfully establishes an equivalent duty for the provision of accommodation-based domestic abuse services, but this excludes services delivered in the community such as therapeutic support, CHISVAs and CHIDVAs, helplines and counselling services. We know from our own practice experience that these community-based services can deliver life-changing support for children and their families in the context of domestic abuse and sexual abuse.
- The vast majority of child victims of domestic abuse receive support through community-based rather than accommodation-based services, so it is crucial that they receive sustainable support from central government through a funded legal duty. We are concerned that resource-limited councils may divert funding from community-based to accommodation based-services in order to fulfil their duty under the Domestic Abuse Act.
- Evaluation of the Children’s Act 2004 stands as evidence that a duty to collaborate alone may not sufficiently enhance the level of support on offer. Section 10 of the 2004 requires local authorities to promote cooperation between the authority and other bodies working with children. Section 11 places a duty on a range of bodies to ensure that their services are discharged with regard to children’s welfare needs. The Munro Review found that an additional statutory duty (not ever taken up) on local authorities to “secure the sufficient provision of local early help services for children” was required to effectively meet children’s needs. Despite the 2004 Act duties, The 2022 Care Review found that the system of early support was “fragmented and complicated” and that “spending on help has reduced significantly in recent years”. The Review recommended an additional £2 billion to adequately transform early support services. This evidence base demonstrates how substantive legal duties and sustained investment from central Government can be required beyond procedural rules to truly achieve coordinated, effective support for children, young people and families.
Whether the steps outlined by the Government will lead to increased awareness and effectiveness of the ISVAs and IDVAs?
- It is welcome that the Draft Bill directs the Secretary of State to issue guidance about IDVAs and ISVAs. The Bill, however, lacks any real prescription in terms of what the guidance should contain. For example, the draft legislation states that the guidance “may include provision about the role of such advisors” and “appropriate training and provision”. These elements would appear to be crucial, not optional aspects of any guidance.
- A further issue of the draft Bill is that no mention is made of child-specialist advocates such as child Independent sexual violence advisors (CHISVAs), child independent domestic violence advisors (CHIDVAs) and young people’s violence advisors (YPVAs). Children often do not know their rights, and struggle to access the services they are entitled to. Receiving tailored support at every step of the witness process is a crucial part of recovery. CHISVAs offer support, advice and help for child victims and survivors. They work with the whole (non-abusing) family and help them find a way through a complex, potentially traumatic system. As noted above, CHISVA provision is patchy. Victims and witnesses experience a ‘post-code lottery’ when accessing these services, with some unable to get any help from them at all. Some IDVAs rarely meet with child DA victims and therefore are unable to take into account the child’s specific needs of support. IDVAs are predominantly an adult-facing service and usually only have capacity for short term support, often not appropriate when working with young victims. The Government has invested in ISVAs and IDVAs with £185m being secured to increase their number on the most recent Spending Review,  but no assurance was given that a proportion of this would go towards training advisors to work specifically with children, or increasing the number of CHISVAs and CHIDVAs. In the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan, the Government provided money to support IDVAs to work with older victims but made no commitment around training advisors to work with young people.
- CHISVA, CHIDVA and YPVA roles are not commissioned as part of a framework of quality standards and neither do all the roles have dedicated accredited training. CHISVAs and CHIDVAs are invaluable but need to be underpinned by a comprehensive programme of evaluation, training and quality standards. This is not addressed in the Draft Bill. Home Office guidance exists for ISVAs supporting adults, but it only covers support to be offered to families of children rather than children themselves. IDVAs do not have a similar definition at Government level. Currently there are different standards and caseloads for advocates depending on which area they cover.
- The Bill must bring about clarity on role of advocates and specialist, accredited, child-centred training and guidance for these professionals. It is crucial that ISVAs working specifically with children are trained on children’s safeguarding, including safeguarding thresholds and referral pathways. CHISVAs must be trauma informed with an understanding of how trauma can impact a young person’s behaviour and day-to-day decision making. It is important that CHISVAs can support parents to support their children. This includes knowledge of child development and communication skills across age ranges and abilities. Investment in IDVAs and ISVAs must not displace the need for holistic support from other agencies. Services have reported that IDVAs are being left to pick up the pieces when other services, such as mental health services were cited as having less engagement.
What implementation, resourcing and accountability challenges exist with respect to the Victims’ Bill?
- In relation to accountability, the issues of transferring oversight of the Victims’ Code from the Victims’ Commissioner to PCCs have been highlighted above. To meet the problem of PCCs not always sitting on local criminal justice boards, the Home Secretary, as part of the review into PCCS, announced in March 2022 that PCCs should chair these boards moving forward. These recommendations, however, have not yet been finalised or acted upon. This will make this area of accountability difficult for PCCs to take on without statutory backing. PCCs must be clearly placed in the reporting chain in order to play an effective role in accountability measures. With 97% of respondents to the Victims’ Bill agreeing that greater local inter-agency collaboration is needed to deliver an improved experience for victims and to monitor compliance with the Code, this area is key and strong governance and reporting lines will be essential. As also mentioned above, the accountability and data collection measures in the draft Bill are localised rather than systematic and national. The new power to require inspectorates to carry out joint inspections assessing victims’ experiences and treatment by the police, the CPS, prisons, the probation service and the courts is welcomed, though there will be challenge in following individual cases through their entire journey, navigating different timelines and data centres where the information is held.
- In terms of resourcing, the draft Bill does not address the significant lack of resourcing for specialist services to support child victims of abuse discussed throughout this submission. Neither the Ministry of Justice’s Spending Review Settlement nor the Victims Funding Strategy addresses this issue either. Significant resourcing will be required to truly transform young victim and witnesses experience of the criminal justice system and enhance the level of support they can access. More also needs to be done by central government to understand the levels of need across the country in relation to young victims in order to be well-placed to commit the necessary resources.
- To make implementation of the legislation more effective, the Bill must become more directive in terms of what the Secretary of State should include in the Victims Code of Practice as well as further guidance such around independent advocates. Where consultation processes are set out in the draft Bill, specific consultation with those representing the interests of child victims must be included to ensure that their needs are addressed and considered.
Further measures that should be included in the Bill
- The draft Bill does not address the crucial issues faced by victims of child criminal exploitation (CCE), although there are some references to victims of modern slavery. We are seriously concerned by the current situation for victims of CCE. Children form a major proportion of the subjects being investigated by the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). In 2020, 47% of referrals to the NRM (as potential victims of modern slavery) were for people exploited as children. All too often these children are criminalised for actions directly linked to their exploitation rather than being recognised and supported as victims.
- The recent Court of Appeal judgment in the case of R v Kevin Brecani held that an assessment made by the Single Competent Authority (SCA) – a conclusive grounds decision – was not admissible evidence at first instance in criminal proceedings. This ruling means that many children will have difficulty defending themselves when charged with a criminal offence which is directly linked to their exploitation. It will also have a significant impact on the ability to prosecute the real perpetrators of modern slavery since the prosecution can no longer rely upon conclusive grounds decisions when attempting to establish that identified victims have been trafficked and/or are victims of modern slavery. We hope that the Government will re-consider the scope of this Bill and take this opportunity to legislate in order to rectify the problematic aspects of this judgment and ensure that children who are victims of exploitation and abuse are protected as such and perpetrators of modern slavery can be brought to justice.
Are there any relevant international examples the Committee should consider?
- In contrast to the fragmented commissioning landscape facing young sexual abuse victims, Child House offers a commissioning model through which the services that CSA victims rely on can be joined up. A Child House is a multi-agency service supporting children, young people and non-abusing parents, carers and family members following CSA. Child Houses provide a child-centred approach in which the agencies involved in supporting the child, including healthcare, social care, advocacy services and police provide coordinated services in a single, child-friendly environment which supports children to give their best evidence. The model is not included in the draft Bill. The Child House model has been recommended by NHS England and by the Children’s Commissioner as the most suitable long-term option for improving support for CSA victims. The Centre for Social Justice has also recommended the national roll out of Child Houses. The Home Office highlighted the model in their 2021 Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy and in September 2021 published Child House Local Partnership Guidance to encourage local areas to establish their own child houses.
- A wealth of international evidence supports the effectiveness of the Child House model. The first ‘Barnahus’ was established in Iceland in 1998, inspired by Child Advocacy Centres in the US. At the heart of the model is the assumption that the environment and circumstances in which a child discloses abuse is crucial. How this disclosure is handled by professionals, and the support available to children during and after the disclosure have direct effects on the child’s recovery and wellbeing following sexual abuse. Since the introduction of the model in Iceland, the number of cases of child sexual abuse where the alleged perpetrator is charged has increased considerably; approximately 50% of referrals to the Barnahus led to court testimony being recorded in less than a week. A further 30% of referrals resulted in court testimony within 1-2 weeks. In each case, the child and their family were offered therapy immediately following the interview, enabling the process of recovery to being without delay.
- The NSPCC has been involved in the delivery of the UK’s first Child House, the Lighthouse in Camden, alongside the NHS, the local authority and the police; This includes working with doctors, nurses, play therapists, police, psychiatrists, and therapy workers. A child advocate (or CHISVA) who is an expert in sexual abuse and violence and in supporting children who have experienced it, works with children and their families to access the services and support they need, when they need them.
 Draft Victims’ Bill, section 1 (1)
 Ibid, section 9 (2), (4); section 10 (1)
 Draft Victims’ Bill, section 2
 Ibid, section 6
 Ibid, section 9
 Ibid, section 9 (2)
 Domestic Abuse Act 2021, section 3
 Action for Children, 'Support for child victims of domestic abuse: patchy, piecemeal and precarious', 2019
 Barnardo’s, Journey to Justice, 2017
 Letter from Robert Buckland, 24 March 2021 to Peers: “we will be consulting this year on that Law, and I can assure you that this proposed duty will be a key feature of that consultation.”
 Victim Support, Understanding Guilt and Shame for adult survivors of child sexual abuse, 2020
 Victims’ Commissioner, Are we getting it right for young victims of crime? A review of children’s entitlements in the victims’ code, 2017
 King’s College London; Lime Culture, An Audit of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors, 2015
 Treasury, Autumn Budget and Spending Review, 2021, p.102
 NSPCC, Child sexual abuse prosecutions and convictions roughly halve in 4 years, 2022
 Allnock; Hynes. Therapeutic services for sexually abused children and young people, December 2011
 NSPCC, Falling Short?, p.17
 Home Office, Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy, 2021
 SafeLives, Seeing the Whole Picture: An evaluation of SafeLives' One Front Door
 Kings College op cit
 Ministry of Justice, Draft Victims’ Bill Explanatory Notes, 2022, p.12, paragraph 75
 Victims’ Bill explanatory notes, p.15, paragraph 96
 Barnardo’s, Exploited and Criminalised, 2021
 Children’s Commissioner, A joined up public health response to gangs, 2021
 Unlock, Unspent convictions and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, 2021
 NSPCC, Falling Short?,
 NSPCC Learning, Protecting children from domestic abuse, 2021
 SafeLives, In Plain Sight, 2014
 Corinna Jenkins Tucker, David Finkelhor, Heather Turner, ‘Exposure to parent assault on a sibling as a childhood adversity’, Child Abuse & Neglect, 2021
 Draft Victims’ Bill section 10 (1)
 Rachel Maclean MP, Twitter post, January 2022
 SafeLives, A Safe Fund: costing domestic abuse provision for the whole family, 2020
 Ministry of Justice 2020 op cit, p.12, paragraph 75
 Draft Victims’ Bill section 1 (4)
 Victim Support, Understanding Guilt and Shame for adult survivors of child sexual abuse, 2020
 The Children’s Society, Briefing on attrition rates in reported cases of sexual offences against children under 18, 2020
 Victim Support 2020 op cit
 Victim Support, Suffering in Silence, 2014
 Home Office, Home Office and Police data sharing arrangements on migrant victims and witnesses of crime with insecure immigration status, 2021
 Ministry of Justice, Delivering justice for victims, 2021, p.5
 Victims’ Commissioner, Are we getting it right for young victims of crime? A review of children’s entitlements in the victims’ code, 2017
 NSPCC 2022 op cit
 Josh MacAlister, The independent review of children’s social care, Final report, 2022, National governance and delivery. EG “implementation of all recommendations in this report should be provided by the Secretary of State” (p.239)
 Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, National review into the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, 2022: “We are advocating therefore that our approach to child protection practice should be strengthened at both a local and at a national level” (p.98). “Recommendation 6: “A sharper performance focus and better co-ordination of child protection policy in central Government” (p.100)
 Draft Victims’ Bill section 4 (2)
 73,260 child sexual offences reported to the police in 2019, leading to 4,023 convictions. ONS, Child abuse extent and nature, England and Wales: year ending March 2019, March 2020; ONS, Child abuse and the criminal justice system, England and Wales year ending March 2019, March 2020
 ONS, Child abuse in England and Wales, March 2020
 Home Office, Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy, 2021
 Action for Children 2019 op cit
 SafeLives op cit
 Children’s Commissioner, Barnahus: Improving the response to child sexual abuse in England, 2016
 Draft Victims’ Bill, section 6 (3)
 Ministry of Justice, Draft Victims’ Bill Explanatory Notes, 2022, p.12, paragraph 75
 Treasury, Spending Review 2021, p.102
 NSPCC Learning, Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together (DART™) service. An evaluation of DART found that it increased mothers’ self-esteem and confidence in parenting and affection towards their children and reduced children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties. Barnardo’s, Opening Closed Doors delivers evidence-based interventions to children and young people and facilitates support for the wider family to embed sustainable change
 NSPCC Learning, Letting the Future In. LTFI is a therapeutic service recommended in NICE guidance and showcased in the Home Office’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy Barnardo’s, Safer Futures CSE Service
 148,852 children were supported by community-based services compared to 11,890 children in refuges: Women’s Aid, The Domestic Abuse Report 2022: Early Release, 2022
 Professor Eileen Munro, The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report, 2010, p.12, recommendation 10
 Josh MacAlister, Care Review, p.30
 Ibid, p.54
 Draft Victims’ Bill, section 9 (3)
 Barnardo’s, Journey to Justice: Prioritising the wellbeing of children involved in criminal justice processes relating to sexual exploitation and abuse, 2017
 Home Office, The role of the Independent Sexual Violence Adviser (ISVA), 2017
 Kings College London & LimeCulture, Audit of ISVAs in England and Wales, 2015
 Victims Commissioner, Sowing the Seeds Children’s experience of domestic abuse and criminality, 2020
 SafeLives, Safe Young Lives: Young people and domestic abuse
 Treasury, Autumn Budget and Spending Review, 2021, p.102
 Home Office, Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan, 2022, p.34
 Victims Commissioner, Victim Advocates: A Rapid Evidence Assessment, 2019
 APCC, APCC Welcomes PCC Review Recommendations, 2022
 Ministry of Justice, Delivering justice for victims: consultation response, 2020, p.29
 Home Office, Modern Slavery: National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify Statistics, 2020
 NHS England, Review of pathways following sexual assault for children and young people in London, March 2015
 Children’s Commissioner, Barnahus: Improving the response to child sexual abuse in England, June 2016
 Centre for Social Justice, Unsafe Children: driving our country’s response to child sexual abuse and exploitation, March 2021
Home Office, Child House: local partnerships guidance, 2021
 NHS 2015 op cit
 Children’s Commissioner 2016 op cit
 Mayor of London Office for Policing and Crime, The Lighthouse: 2-year interim evaluation report, November 2020