Protecting the protectors – understanding the impacts of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (CSAE) investigations on police staff and officers – The National Officer Wellbeing Survey

The survey will discover how staff involved in CSAE investigations are affected by their work, what coping strategies they use and what support might be required.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr Theresa Redmond
Police region
Eastern
Collaboration and partnership

Professor Peter Lee and Dr Paul Conway at the University of Portsmouth.

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

In the context of increased reports of child sexual abuse over recent years (Bentley and others, 2016), exacerbated by the exponential rise in online child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) and offences (Internet Watch Foundation, 2020), there has been within policing a growing recognition of the need to safeguard the emotional and psychological health and wellbeing of police staff and officers.

The ‘Blue Light Wellbeing Framework’ (College of Policing, 2020a), the Wellbeing of Investigators Toolkit (Oscar Kilo webpage, 2022), the ‘Responding to trauma in policing: a practical guide’ (College of Policing, 2020), and guidance regarding how to support the wellbeing of Internet Child Abuse Teams (College of Policing, 2019) all provide strong examples of this.

The identification of ‘High Risk Roles’ and the ‘Pause Point’ initiative demonstrate the positive response of the police service to tackle and mitigate the issues and challenges that face this workforce. However, following this guidance is optional, so how far and how consistently this guidance is implemented is currently unclear, creating the possibility that support for personnel involved in CSAE investigations may not be readily available or consistent across forces.

There is a relatively small but growing body of academic research and literature in this area (MacEachern and others, 2018; Parkes and others, 2018: Seigfried-Spellar, 2018), which reports evidence of the impacts that working in policing can have on staff, from compassion fatigue and burnout to secondary trauma and PTSD (Carlson-Johnson and others, 2020; Foley & Massey, 2020; Miller & Unruh, 2019).

Some research highlights ongoing concerns regarding barriers to accessing support (Tapson and others, 2021) and the efficacy of support that is provided to CSAE investigators (MacEachern, and others, 2019).

Most of the research that has been conducted has been based on small sample sizes, giving useful qualitative data and insight. However, this survey will add a great deal of breadth to these findings, strengthening the evidence base, and will illustrate the ‘temperature’ of this workforce in relation to their emotional health and wellbeing on a national scale.

Research methodology

The Survey

The survey is designed to gain detailed knowledge of the extent to which staff involved in CSAE investigations are impacted by this work, in what ways, what coping strategies they may use, and what support they value.

The data collected will provide insight from the perspectives and experiences of CSAE investigators and allow us to understand officer wellbeing in a national context.

Inclusion criteria

Police officers and police staff, at any rank, who routinely work in any CSAE investigations (online and/or contact).

Exclusion criteria

Police officers or police staff on sick leave or otherwise not available for duty.

Procedure

We will administer an online survey to every police force in England and Wales, targeting any police officer or staff member who routinely works in CSAE investigations.
The sample will be self-selecting, and completion of the survey will take between 30 to 40 minutes. Access to the survey will be via a link in an email.

The survey will remain open to personnel for a period of two weeks initially. Our very minimum requirement of respondents is 200, though we hope to have a much higher response rate on a national level.

We recognise how busy these officers and staff are, and we value their time. As an incentive and a thank you, all respondents will have the opportunity to be entered into a prize draw to win one of twenty £25.00 Amazon vouchers on completion of the survey.

Outcomes

We intend to use the evidence base provided by this survey to identify:

  • what is working in this space and areas for development

  • produce training materials to improve officer wellbeing

  • provision of support for teams working in this space inform practice in other areas of policing

We very much hope to work in collaboration with police forces and teams to help share good practice and support developments in practice.

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