Tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) is possible if services can be flexible and respond to a child’s needs first.
This is according to an evaluation of one of the UK’s largest services for CSE, Protect & Respect, run by child protection charity NSPCC.
The evaluation, which took place over three years, revealed that practitioners felt there were critical first steps to take before trying to reduce the risk of sexual exploitation facing that child.
It found that directly talking about CSE during first meetings wasn’t always the best approach, especially when a child had experienced other adversities such as abuse and neglect.
Addressing these problems were often a precondition to children opening up and understanding more about the sexual exploitation they had also experienced.
Rebecca, a Protect & Respect practitioner from Prestatyn said:
“I had been working with a young girl at risk of CSE for the past six months, but progress had been slow and she had cancelled most of the sessions I organised.
“However, when she texted me out of the blue one morning it signalled she was now willing to engage. Despite having a full diary of prior commitments and her being an hour’s drive away, I knew it was vital to take this opportunity to meet her as it was so rare for her to reach out. That day she disclosed her abuse.”
One of the NSPCC service centres created an informal drop-in arrangement. This helped children and teenagers who had a lot going on in their lives and found it difficult to regularly attend weekly appointments.
Practitioners felt they needed to build a trusting and nurturing relationship with a child to help them understand what factors in their life may lead to an increased risk of them suffering CSE.
The danger they face could also be lowered if practitioners helped to provide young people access to a safe place to live away from potential perpetrators and offer them long-term therapeutic support.
Jon Brown, Head of Development and Impact at the NSPCC, said:
“This evaluation has highlighted the importance of giving practitioners and the young people they are working with the time and space to build a close and trusting relationship.
“Services should be equipped to allow this to happen before they even start talking about child sexual exploitation.”
Protect & Respect, offered to those aged between 11 and 18, aims to help children and teenagers spot the signs of abuse, learn more about minimising risks, and understand what a healthy relationship is.
It is delivered in 15 areas across the country and is made up of one-to-one sessions, group work, multi-agency safeguarding work and advocacy support.
Those who access the service usually take part in the programme for six months, but during the evaluation, it was found practitioners would regularly extend the sessions.
Building a relationship with some young people could take six months and they could continue working together for up to two years to reduce the risk of sexual exploitation.
In recognition of the fact that wider exploitation is connected to CSE, the service will also support children who are experiencing or are at risk of, all forms of exploitation.
Currently, 90% of service-users are girls, so this will also help engage boys in the service who may be experiencing CSE but might otherwise be directed through a criminal justice route.
To read the full evaluation visit: https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2019/helping-children-recover-from-child-sexual-exploitation/