Privately fostered children face an increased risk of being sexually exploited, according to child protection experts.
During a session on child sexual exploitation at Community Care Live today, Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, called the practice “the single biggest child protection issue facing over-10s in this country”. “Yet still we are not focusing enough attention or resources on it,” she added.
Carrie appealed to social workers everywhere to be vigilant about recognising the signs of abuse and referring victims to appropriate services. She said looked after children and children who are being privately fostered face an increased risk of being targeted by abusers.
Kate Richardson, child protection and children’s services manager at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) centre, told delegates: “It is not just the stereotyped model of children in care homes. Children in all types of care settings, and especially those who go missing from care or who are being privately fostered, show an incredible vulnerability to being sexually exploited. There needs to be more monitoring of the risks posed to children.”
Their comments follow this week’s announcement from children’s minister Tim Loughton that the government is to investigate child sexual exploitation in the UK and draw up a national action plan, to be published in the autumn.
Carrie – who joined Barnardo’s in January as it launched a major report on child sexual exploitation – said she was delighted by the news but would hold the government to account if an action plan was not published by next January. “If it has not been published by January 14 2012, one year on from the publication of our report, I will not be impressed. I will go large on it,” she said.
The high-profile cases already uncovered in the UK, including the convictions of nine men in Greater Manchester for grooming and sexually exploiting young girls, were just the “tip of the iceberg”, Carrie said. “It is a huge, huge, unseen problem,” she added.
Jeanette Pugh, head of safeguarding at the Department for Education, is co-ordinating the government’s response. She told Community Care that the government would be stepping up to the mark and is already working with Ceop and the Children’s Commissioner to investigate the issue.
“We are looking at everything. It’s about getting a better understanding of the scale of the problem which we believe to be quite hidden. We need to understand the nature of this type of abuse and how it manifests because it tends to be stereotyped,” she said.
Pugh said the government will be looking in detail at the profile of offenders; which children and young people are most at risk; raising awareness; preventative action; how more effective prosecutions can be secured and how vulnerable victims and witnesses are treated in court. Pugh confirmed that Ceop will be publishing a thematic report on the issue in the summer.
Carrie also took the opportunity to distance herself from comments made by justice secretary Kenneth Clarke yesterday which appeared to suggest some cases of rape are more serious than others.
She said: “There are no mitigating circumstances whatsoever for rape, or for the sexual exploitation of children and young people. I would distance myself from Ken Clarke’s remarks.”
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