by Sophie Humphreys
Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is one of a number of forms of abuse that vulnerable children are at risk of, and that practitioners need to be alert to. It is only through understanding why children are at risk of CSE and other forms of abuse that we can truly begin to impact on its prevalence and the subsequent pain and trauma it causes for children and young adults.
It is important to have expertise available to support mainstream services and their practitioners in reacting to complex and sometimes organised forms of abuse such as CSE.
This expertise must also be used to develop the core skills of practitioners, thereby ensuring they are equipped to identify and respond effectively to the victims of CSE.
It may well be necessary at times to devise a specialist and bespoke service to focus on an acute or chronic abuse issue that is particularly prevalent in an area.
A good example of this is the Kingfisher team in Oxfordshire, formed following the Bullfinch inquiry, and provides a very effective service.
Specialist services should be framed as a relatively targeted and time limited piece of work with a clear objective to bring about change within a system, and how it responds to CSE or other forms of abuse. Ensuring that the knowledge within this specialist service is integrated back into the main system should be an imperative.
The potential risk is that, if a specialist service, albeit an effective one, becomes the default pathway for all relevant cases to be referred, the core service practitioners do not fully develop the required skills to effectively diagnose and respond to whatever is happening for that child. CSE has to be seen as a symptom of a number of potential underlying issues.
Children and young people have a number of ways of expressing themselves when ‘something is not right’ and it is important that we are curious and tenacious as professionals in trying to understand what may be going on for them, even when children are not communicating this directly.
For social work practitioners in particular, to have the confidence and skills they need to get to the underlying issue for a child means they need to continue to have exposure and experience in dealing with a wide range of complex forms of abuse.
Responding appropriately and assertively to CSE both in protecting the victims but also dealing with the perpetrators is absolutely paramount. However, if we don’t look at the issue from a more preventative perspective and try and understand what makes someone vulnerable to CSE, but also understand what makes a person more likely to become a perpetrator of CSE this, the issue will continue to grow.
Sophie Humphreys is an independent advisor on child protection and safeguarding to central government and local authorities across the country. Sophie was recently appointed by Ministers to look at Child Sexual Exploitation in Oxfordshire. Sophie is a founder and Chief Executive of an organisation called Pause, aimed at breaking the cycle of repeat removals of children into care. Sophie was the head of safeguarding and child protection in Hackney until 2013.