A tough listen

CHILD SEXUAL exploitation (CSE) is a tough topic this week but one that is absolutely necessary to cover to ensure that none of us lose an opportunity to identify and help those at risk. There are lots of new sources of information and advice as well as online training but first let us remind ourselves what CSE is with this from the NSPCC: “Children in exploitative situations and relationships receive something such as gifts, money or affection as a result of performing sexual activities or others performing sexual activities on them,” it says on its website. “Children or young people may be tricked into believing they’re in a loving, consensual relationship.” And just to be clear, it states that child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse – and if you think that is blindingly obvious then think back to the victims who were groomed and abused by men in Rochdale for so long because their relationships were seen by some in authority as consensual. That was barely five years ago.

Foster carers are often reluctant to take on young people that have been victims or may be at risk of becoming a victim of CSE. Trying to stop a young person from being sexually exploited can see carers taking some stringent actions to stop them communicating with abusers. Curbs on going out, removal of mobile phones and strictly limited internet access are all unlikely to engender the building of a trusting relationship with a child that has just moved into the foster home.

This issue is alluded to in research led by the University of Bedfordshire’s Lucie Shuker who spoke at last month’s IFCO conference about the Barnardo’s safe accommodation project which was launched in response to children in care being over-represented in  cases of CSE. The project included a pilot specialist foster care scheme, which found that children saw a reduced risk of exploitation when they were in foster homes where carers had built a strong relationship with the child and kept them busy with alternative activities that gave the child “a reason to stay” and enabled them to build up their own self-esteem and choose to escape the abuse.

In a separate publication Barnardo’s also warns us of the dangers of stereotyping victims of CSE as being predominately white teenage girls in It’s not on the radar, summarised by Reconstruct Training, while the Children’s Society looks specifically of the issue of boys who are trafficked and sexually exploited, and why they are often more reluctant to disclose. It is a theme picked up in the Local Government Association’s resource pack for councils that tackles some of the myths around CSE. It offers councillors advice on how to ensure that their local authority is tackling this issue and adequately supporting those affected. It also reminds us of the uncomfortable truth that sometimes victims can also be perpetrators too. More information for professionals is available via the NWG network while PACE provides information for parents and carers.  As always the NSPCC is the go to site for information and describes all indicators of all types of abuse including a section on CSE.

Meanwhile Ofsted’s joint inspection report Time to Listen covering Central Bedfordshire, Croydon, Liverpool, Oxfordshire, and South Tyneside issued at the end of last month reminded us that: “Tackling child sexual exploitation is not just an issue for local authorities, and health and the police must ensure a sufficiently senior person leads this work. A key concern remains that not all frontline healthcare staff are able to identify the signs of sexual exploitation.” It went on to say that: “The police service needs to improve their response by making sure children talk to one person of sufficient skill and experience to know how to help.”

In its response, the Children’s Society agrees with this summary adding: “Children who go missing are still experiencing poor or patchy responses from police and other professionals. Too many services are failing to properly assess the risks that young people face, or to share important local knowledge about places and people who pose risks to vulnerable children.” The society says its online training (Seen and Heard) developed with the Department of Health seeks to address the gap in knowledge among frontline staff but is a valuable resource for everyone.

Please feel free to feed back with other resources on this subject.


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