NSPCC social worker Sarah Brown describes her work on Protect and Respect, a service highlighted as an example of good practice in the Office of Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups.
I helped launch Protect and Respect in Nottingham last year. It is aimed at 11-19 year-olds who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, or have been sexually exploited. It is built on 15 years of NSPCC experience delivering similar services in London.
Often the young people I work with are deeply traumatised and, at first, can be difficult to engage. They don’t always see themselves as victims and we have to work with them at their own pace. When I’m working with a young person one-on-one, we’ll meet once a week and I’ll offer emotional, therapeutic and even practical support. For example, if a child is being bullied, I’ll work through that with them, but I’ll also visit the school and raise the issue.
Young people have told me that the fact that I have listened to them, believed them and taken their issues seriously has been so important to them and helped to build their trust in me.
We offer one-to-one work, group work and therapeutic support to children, with a particular focus on minority ethnic children. We also work with local communities and professionals to improve recognition and response to the signs of sexual exploitation.
The majority of our referrals currently come from social workers, but we maintain good relationships with all the other agencies and proactively make presentations and raise awareness of what we do.
We are part of a cross-authority group set up to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE), including representatives from social care, the police and other health and education services, building on our positive existing relationships within the area.
A multi-agency approach has been vital to the success of our service; we have an important role to play in supporting and educating professionals, while also challenging stereotypes about young people who are groomed and exploited, by attending strategy meetings and informing the decision-making process. We also have a close working relationship with the local police, which has helped to improve information sharing between law enforcement and local agencies.
As part of our preventative work, I’ve been involved in developing creative ways to raise awareness of CSE with young people. I sat on an advisory group for a recently developed theatre production about CSE, called ‘Luv u 2’, produced by Pintsize Theatre. It brings to life sexual exploitation in a child-friendly way; my role was to ensure it was relevant to the real-life experiences of the young people we work with. It is currently touring schools in the area and our service is signposted as somewhere young people can contact.
Working on Protect and Respect is very rewarding, but it can also be extremely difficult and challenging. We are a resource that professionals look to for an answer; it’s a lot about managing risk as a multi-agency group.
I have to wear lots of different hats in my role: social worker, therapist, and consultant. The NSPCC has worked hard to promote the CSE agenda in Nottingham and through good local relationships and hard work, we continue to make a real difference for vulnerable children. To ensure our service has the biggest impact, we are undertaking rigorous monitoring and evaluation of the service so we can ultimately share our findings to help more children.
Protect and Respect is available in a number of areas across the UK including Nottingham, east London, Manchester and Plymouth.