Ed TimpsonThe Children and Families Minister has said the government will encourage social work reform and innovation to help improve protection of vulnerable children after NSPCC figures revealed the number of contacts to their helpline has increase 228% in 5 years.

Edward Timpson MP opened his talk at the NSPCC's flagship 'How safe are our children?' Conference [17 June] by outlining "just how serious a commitment we [the government] have to protecting our most vulnerable children".

"We’ve learned all too painfully in recent years about children’s cries which went unheard - for years and years," he said. "The horrific stories of child sexual exploitation now being uncovered around the country rightly shame the nation."

Among high profile cases, the NSPCC's annual How Safe report, revealed that the number of children who had been re-registered onto child protection registers for at least a second time had increased year-on-year since 2002.

"With the help of the NSPCC and many brave victims, we’ve been able to shine a light on a police and social care system set up to protect children, but that all too often turned them away, leaving them in the hands of callous abusers. As a society - and as a government - we’ve had to face up to some awful truths in the past few years. And face up to them we must," Timpson added.

"Only perhaps now are we starting to see the signs of societal shift in the way we view, recognise, react and deal with child sexual abuse because, terrible though it is to read the numbers in your report - the 124% increase in calls to ChildLine about sexual abuse since 2013 to 2014 - it’s at least encouraging to see the increased willingness of victims to come forward. And we know now that the police and other professionals will take it seriously when they do.

"Horrible though it is to hear court case after appalling court case, at least it means that justice is being done - and that any perpetrators out there know it too. And it’s because of the particularly awful nature of these crimes, and society’s failure to prosecute them and protect the victims for so long that we’ve made child sexual abuse a national priority for the police, putting child sexual abuse right up there alongside serious and organised crime on their agenda."

Timpson went on to introduce his new colleague Karen Bradley, who gave her first speech as a minister in the Home Office specifically to handle child sexual abuse and child protection.

The Minister also announced another new creation in the shape of a Centre of Expertise to understand what works when it comes to tackling and preventing child sexual abuse.

The centre has been created to help all those working with children to improve practice - highlighting the signs to look out for, the consequences of sexual abuse and providing best evidence on how to support victims.

But, Timpson added, "child sexual abuse doesn’t happen in isolation" and he urged campaigners to not forget that neglect remains the number one reason for children to be in the protection system in the UK.

The minister said that in order to reduce the number of children suffering abuse while in protection the key was "more good social workers".

"Improving frontline practice is the key to really transforming lives," he added. "It’s why we’re also supporting ambitious projects to bring the brightest and best into social work through Step Up to Social Work and Frontline.

"But, whatever the route into child protection, our priority must be to make sure that social workers are being taught the right things, in the right way, by the right people. And our ambition for the quality of the workforce is matched by our ambition to encourage new ways of working, freeing systems up to improve when they are good, intervening strongly when they are inadequate."

There are now 686 social workers who’ve been trained through the Step Up programme, and 101 potential leaders in training with Frontline and Timpson described them as "all impressive people, determined and dedicated like so many social workers across the country to make a difference to vulnerable children’s lives".

He concluded: "Children are growing up in a world that has changed immeasurably since we were children - especially with the march of technology and the new opportunities, but also the pressures and risks, that it brings.

"We need to equip them with the means to engage with this new social world creatively, knowledgeably and positively. We cannot expect a 10-year-old to be resilient to online pressure if we do not teach him or her to be so. We cannot be surprised or shocked when a teenager posts something silly online and it zips around the world, trapping his or her identity forever - if we haven’t taught her the consequences in advance.

"So there’s a need to get better and smarter about how we equip our sons and daughters with the attributes they need to find their feet today and truly flourish."

Further reading: Addressing social problems key to effective youth mental health services