A national scheme aimed at delivering strategic support to areas battling criminal and sexual exploitation will draw on the expertise of children’s services from across England.
The Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) programme was announced this week by the Department for Education (DfE). It will see a consortium led by Research in Practice, The Children’s Society and the University of Bedfordshire help local authority partnerships develop responses to threats in their areas.
Traditional safeguarding policy and practice has been put under increasing strain in recent years by child protection issues that occur mostly outside the family home, such as sexual exploitation and ‘county lines’ drug dealing.
Under the TCE programme, safeguarding partnerships will be able to apply for ‘bespoke’ support in order to get to grips with specific local issues.
The initiative, which will run until April 2022 and is backed by £2 million of government money, also aims to create an open-access resource in which knowledge can be pooled.
Local authority partners
As well as the lead agencies, at least seven councils will be partners in the consortium, which will also have input from other academics, charities and independent experts.
They include Hackney, which has been piloting the contextual safeguarding approach pioneered by Carlene Firmin at the University of Bedfordshire.
Meanwhile Rochdale is representing a group of Greater Manchester councils and other agencies that have developed a ‘complex safeguarding’ hub in order to address all forms of exploitation.
More on child exploitation
Other councils involved so far are North Yorkshire, which developed the No Wrong Door service to support vulnerable adolescents, Newcastle, Hertfordshire, Camden and Islington.
More local authorities are also expected to join the programme.
Dez Holmes, the director of Research in Practice, told Community Care it was important the TCE programme drew on work that was going on around the country rather than taking a top-down, centralised approach.
“[We were keen to] gather good practice – and project delivery team colleagues – from the sector to ensure tools can be shared,” she said. “We want to try to do as much as we can so that when funding ends the sector is left with a legacy it has co-produced.”
Holmes said a consultation exercise would be carried out over the summer in order to better understand areas’ learning needs. This will be followed by pilot projects to test elements such as how the scheme measures its success, before it goes live later in the autumn.
She acknowledged that the TCE programme’s impact would be “modest”, given its limited budget, compared with the scale of problems regions face from various forms of child exploitation.
But Holmes added that it was hoped this could be maximised by running a quarterly application process that would enable areas to be paired geographically or thematically.
She said she would anticipate bids for assistance coming from an area partnership level – not just based on the needs of children’s services or police – and to demonstrate clear multi-agency buy-in and a commitment to engaging children and families.
Helen Beckett, the TCE programme lead at the University of Bedfordshire, said: “Our work, including our contextual safeguarding programme, spans many different areas of child exploitation and extra-familial harm, exploring these issues from the perspectives of both children and young people and those seeking to protect them.
“We look forward to the opportunities this initiative offers to progress learning and multi-perspective conversations about how we might better protect children and young people from such harm in the future,” Beckett added.
Rachel Dickinson, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “This support is welcome in terms of building strategic responses to all forms of exploitation, as is the proposed collaborative approach to be taken in working with local authorities across the country.”