Posted: 03 October 2014

We need to do more to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation

Professor Alexis Jay’s report into the sexual abuse of children in Rotherham makes difficult reading. The uncomfortable truth is that Rotherham isn’t a one-off. The report echoes cases in RochdaleOxford, Derby, Torbay.

It is estimated that in England around 16,500 children are at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE). Children are victims of this awful crime in every community and every town in the country. 

The patterns of sexual abuse of children differ but the reasons why authorities fail to identify or deal with it are strikingly similar across the country: professionals unable to recognise child sexual exploitation; victims being regarded with contempt, disbelief or being blamed for their abuse; a lack of strong local leadership or even blunt refusal to face up to the scale of the problem.

There are things that can make a huge difference. 

Listen to children who go missing from home or care

From our direct work with young runaways we know that many children go missing because they are being groomed and they may be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation while on the streets. In the Rotherham case, two-thirds (63%) of the children that were sexually exploited there had been reported as missing on multiple occasions. 

We have campaigned for every young runway to have an independent return interview when they come back after going missing. This conversation with an independent professional gives children a chance to talk about why they ran away, and for professionals to identify children at risk of CSE. 

We run a number of projects – in Manchester, Newcastle, London, Lancashire and elsewhere – that provide return interviews. They are an important safeguarding response that helps professionals disrupt sexual abuse early. We call on all local authorities to put in place return interviews for all young runaways.

Improve support for children in care placed out of their home areas

Children in care are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation because of their earlier experiences of abuse or neglect. And we know from our work that perpetrators deliberately target children in care, particularly those placed miles aware from their local areas.

The Rotherham report confirms this and says that 'out of area placements should do more than simply move the problem elsewhere'.

The latest government figures show that more than a third of children are placed outside their local authority. We have called for tighter rules around out of area placements. We believe that the councils need to work better together to ensure that that children can be properly supported, not just abandoned in the distant placements. 

Professionals must work together, challenge negative attitudes to protect children

Many of our projects work in partnership with other local agencies. Effective working together means that local partners share information about young people to build a fuller picture of abuse or exploitation as early as possible. It also means organisations challenging each other when the response is inadequate. 

Working together also makes it easier to challenge the negative attitudes to vulnerable children that we saw in Rotherham, where in some instances young people were seen as ‘undesirables’ and ‘not worthy of police protection.” 

To protect children in every part of the country, it is vital that we learn lesson from Rotherham. 

By Euan Holloway - Policy team
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