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Moving forward together

Last week, Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE) published a piece of research on the experiences of 31 parents and carers whose children have been sexually abused and exploited outside of the home and their experience of the services they came into contact with. The report describes how parents felt unsupported or even blamed and that the help they did receive did not show the required understanding of the exploitation that their child became trapped in.

We now know far more about child sexual exploitation (CSE) and we are dealing with risk that could not have been imagined even a few years go - checks on progress like PACE’s research show just how crucial it is to have young people, parents and carers being a driving force in this development.

Our understanding of CSE continues to evolve in areas such as online exploitation or appreciating a young person’s ‘digital world’. We are now extending our contextual safeguarding practice models to better support and protect adolescents and promote safeguarding outside of the family home; work that has been supported by Research in Practice. However, going back to the importance of acting on the experiences of parents, carers and young people and putting this at the centre of developing and leading responses, “co-production” in this area is not making the effective progress it should. It is essential that safeguarding is informed by what families say work, but it is one of the most complex and difficult areas to achieve this. It’s complex because we must listen to and involve the family but also extend this further to the neighbourhood and local community. It is also up to us to remain at the forefront of the national debate and challenge the cultural, moral and social issues that are at the heart of abuse and exploitation, including the role of social media in normalising these behaviours. A public awareness campaign promoted with the same intensity and urgency as campaigns against racism and homophobia is urgently needed.

Young people, parents and carers must be able to rely on early responses that build resilience across the services they come into contact with. There is plenty of positive work happening to tackle CSE in areas up and down the country where local authorities, schools, health services and the police are working together to disrupt and prevent abuse. Some areas have put in place training for taxi drivers, bus drivers and hotel staff to recognise and report concerns, or deployed youth workers in known hotspot neighbourhoods. In Greater Manchester, Rochdale and Wigan have co-designed with young people a project to find alternatives to secure accommodation for victims of CSE using a strengths and relationships-based model where a worker takes the time to build a meaningful and trusting relationship with the young person, providing them with the intensive early support they need.

It goes without saying that these early and preventative responses need to be protected and properly funded - not through short-term project-based funding. Unfortunately, central government funding has not kept pace with the changing and at times highly complex needs of young people, in fact local government funding has decreased by 50% in real terms over the last 10 years.

So, the research by PACE may make uncomfortable reading, and we may hope that surely we’ve come farther than this, but it’s essential for us to move forward together with parents, carers and young people as part of a family focused and co-produced approach. As ADCS President Rachel Dickinson said in her Channel 4 News interview last week, “This is an uncomfortable truth that we have to address together.”

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