The government will issue a step-by-step guide for workers on what to do if they are worried a child is being sexually exploited as part of an action plan on the issue, it was announced today.
Children’s minister Tim Loughton said too many local areas had “failed to uncover the true extent of child sexual exploitation in their communities and failed to properly support victims and their families”.
The guide, published in Spring next year, will emphasise the strong links between child sexual exploitation and children running away from home or care. However, a Community Care investigation has shown councils are struggling to identify how many children run away from care each year and that official government figures may well be inaccurate.
Loughton said the plan outlined a compelling case for frontline professionals, coming into contact with potential victims and perpetrators, to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the crime escalating.
“Too many local areas have failed to uncover the true extent of child sexual exploitation in their communities and failed to properly support victims and their families.
“Child sexual exploitation is child abuse, it is not good enough that some local areas don’t recognise it as an issue. This is an extremely serious crime and must be treated as such, with the perpetrators pursued more vigorously. We need to make going to court much easier for the young victims and their families. It is worrying that many incidents go unreported because victims are unwilling to come forward,” he said.
Other elements of the government’s action plan include:
● Ofsted to consider how inspectors consider child sexual exploitation and the contact a child has with different services as they journey through the system
● Good practice examples in monitoring, tackling and preventing child sexual exploitation in local areas to be circulated across the country
● A new sentencing regime, including mandatory life sentences, for anyone convicted of a second serious sexual or violent crime
● Extra funding from the Ministry of Justice over the next three years to voluntary sector groups who support victims, such as Barnardo’s.
● Consideration by judges on if there is a need for repeated cross-examinations of victims in court.
● Working with the social work reform board, health and police to make sure child sexual exploitation is properly covered in training and guidance
● Local safeguarding children boards asked to prioritise child sexual exploitation and undertake robust risk assessments and mapping of the problem locally
● Raise awareness through sex education classes in schools to help children and parents look out for tell-tale signs.
● Increase the use of “special measures” in court to ease the stress and anxiety of criminal proceedings on young people such as giving evidence through video link or using screens in court.
“We can only succeed if we address every aspect of the problem. The action plan is a big step forward and looks at sexual exploitation from the perspective of the young person, analysing what can go wrong and what should happen at every stage,” Loughton said.
The action plan follows a campaign from Barnardo’s which released research showing there is an estimated potential saving of £12 for every £1 spent on providing the intervention.
Sheila Taylor, director of the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People, said: “I welcome this urgent call to action by the Government. There are pockets of good, innovative practice but most local authorities have no one to co-ordinate such work and no one to look at the bigger picture. This must change, if no one is putting the pieces together, children’s desperate situations will continue to be missed.
“The report rightly addresses the need for local agencies and voluntary organisations to work together to tackle child sexual exploitation; for more training to raise awareness among professionals; and for the courts to recognise the impact of the legal process on victims.”
Community Care is running a conference on Safeguarding Vulnerable Adolescents on 1 December, Birmingham
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