Posted: 18 February 2016

Things have to change for exploited teenagers

I’m a practitioner at The Children’s Society’s CARE service (Children at Risk of Exploitation), based in Essex, and my role is to work with young people on a one-to-one basis who have been assessed as being at medium to high risk of sexual exploitation or who are currently being sexually exploited. 

My work with the young person focusses on listening to their voice and giving them back some control and creating a safe space for them to explore their experiences. 

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Help us protect the most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds



I create work plans with them that help them understand and explore what child sexual exploitation (CSE) is as well as ways to help keep them safe. My work also focuses on reengaging them or signposting them to statutory services, supporting them with any police or court processes that they may have to deal with, helping them to build self worth and self esteem, supporting them to build resilience and empowering them to achieve their ambitions!

Old enough to know better

As a practitioner, I was interviewed around my experience of working with this age group for the 'Old Enough to Know Better' report we produced last year. Young people aged 16 and 17 are particularly at risk and I come across this specific group a lot within my project. 

Because of their age they are often neglected by services or even blamed by people in those services for getting into risky situations. Often it is assumed by professionals that the young person is 'choosing' to be in the situation they are in. Young people are sometimes criminalised before being seen as victims and the way alcohol and drugs are used to coerce young people is also something I see far too often.

The Seriously Awkward campaign recommendations to Government really resonated with what I see in my work and it’s fantastic to see us campaigning for these changes. The police need to be able to use the same tools to intervene when 16 and 17 year olds are being exploited as they can for younger children.

How I’ve been involved in the Seriously Awkward campaign

In December last year, some of my colleagues at The Children's Society East, Amy Craven (Youth Engagement Service Senior Practitioner), Emily Rayner (Recovery Worker), Charlotte Driscoll (Project Worker) and Shirley Edwards (Structured Intervention Worker) held an excellent session with some of the 16 and 17 year olds who are being supported by our projects  to talk about healthy relationships, and Clare who works in the campaigns team talked through the issues raised in the campaign, and asked the young people to write messages to their MPs about why things needed to change.

Our practitioners outside the Houses of Parliament

We have all been involved in pushing the Seriously Awkward campaign forward and on 17 December, I was invited, along with my colleagues, to a debate in Parliament about the discrepancy in support and protection for 16 and 17 year olds compared with younger teenagers. I’d never been to Parliament before and it was a very thought-provoking experience. During the debate I sat and considered all the incredible young people I have worked with who have been adversely affected by CSE. I could hear their stories being reflected in what the MPs were saying and was so pleased their voices were finally being heard by the people that can make the changes these young people so desperately need.

We are still putting pressure on Government to strengthen the law to give 16 and 17 year olds the protections they deserve. I will continue to promote and support the campaign until we get some real change for these young people and I hope you will do the same. 

Please take action and contact your MP about this campaign.

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By Sarah Hegarty - Programme staff
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Help us protect the most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds

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Seriously Awkward: Protect older teenagers

Posted: 23 June 2015

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