Plans of action
● Intervene early: Wendy Shepherd of Barnardo’s Secos project advises social work teams to consider the risk of sexual exploitation at the earliest opportunity, especially if a child goes missing.
“We need more research on what makes a child vulnerable to coercion,” she says, “but those with a history of sexual abuse are likely to be at particular risk. Monitor this, especially as they approach adolescence when confusing feelings can develop.”
● Join up: Forge relationships with other agencies, including the voluntary sector, police, teachers and health, says Colin Green, of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services: “Only by working closely with other services to support and protect young people can social workers meet the increasing demand.”
● Specialist services: Take the pressure off by developing or commissioning specialist services, building this into child protection plans. “The specialist support that a young person needs to recognise their own exploitation, then escape and recover requires intensive and, often, long-term work,” says Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie. “The voluntary sector is often best placed to provide this. Consistent staffing means relationships can be built over time and workers are trained to use a range of creative approaches.”
● Training: Managers must prioritise staff training so key signs of sexual exploitation are not dismissed as rebellious adolescent behaviour. This is important if you have no specialist service in your local area.
● Action: “Children will not always speak out about abuse and exploitation. If another professional, such as a teacher or specialist project worker, tells you they are making a referral about a child who has been exploited, or is at risk, you must action it or at least do a CAF [common assessment framework],” says child protection expert Tink Palmer.