“It's definitely a multi-agency effort”: Best practice tackling child exploitation
Tackling child exploitation means being ready to seize the moment when a child can be helped. That was the key message from Emma Soutar, Training Officer in Child Exploitation at the University of Kent’s Centre for Child Protection at the COMPASS Jobs Fair, Birmingham.
Ms Soutar led an interactive session at the event, based on fictional scenarios, in which social workers discussed ways to help children exploited in gangs.
One scenario involved Ben: “He's a looked-after child, he was in a stable foster placement, but it broke down last year. He now has frequent placement moves. And he's currently in a children's home. I think he's been there about three weeks. He's frequently going missing. Big alarm bells for all of us,” she said.
“I'm sure the return interviews are not being done. He has mental health issues, therapy has been identified. However, it's not actually being carried out because it's getting missed with all the placement moves…We’re going to go straight to the train station…He's going to a town 43 miles away, and he's on his way to a trap house there. He's really not happy about having to go up country again. He doesn't like it; it feels dangerous. There's no food, there's no sleep, there's no shower, he’ll have to stay until all the drugs have been sold...
“… He previously got mugged at the abandoned building…so he's now having to repay his debt. We know this is a common thing where muggings can be set up and then there's a debt bondage around that. He's really getting stuck there.
“He's missing a party. And we learned from others that he doesn't like lots of the elements of the exploitation network; that there's the criminal network, and the sexual exploitation that is going on at some of these so-called parties.
“Next, we see the burner phone, with messages coming in, and the demand for the drugs all night long. Getting these calls means he is not able to get any sleep.
“’Happy hour’, ‘Available 24/7 with the best product’, ‘special offer three for two’ – these are real texts that go out when someone comes into town and offers go out to all the drug addicts in the area.
“So he's got his job to do and he's not very happy about it. And then we see this result in the trap house at 4am: A drug user is coming in but he's all over the place, completely wired. They do the deal, but then he goes to Ben’s bag. Ben says later: ‘I can't have that so I stand up quick and I feel a real sharp pain in my leg.’”
“Ben's been stabbed. There's blood all over his trousers. He panics and he runs out into the street and calls for help. Luckily some help is at hand and he goes into A&E. This was worked up by a paediatric A&E nurse in terms of what the case note might look like for Ben at this point. We have him as a trauma patient with a stab wound to the right leg. Full top to toe examination carried out, substantial bruising over his body, injury report made to the police.
“He would not give any explanation of his injuries and he asked to see his former carers Mr. and Mrs. Davis…”
“…Parents not to be contacted. Referral made to violence reduction team, medical team assessed. Child and Adolescent Mental Health assessment needs to take place otherwise considered medically fit and his bed as required for medical purposes, so discharge is considered urgent.
“So my question to you now, what do you do? What are the important things that you get right at this point?
“Here is the potential for a reachable, teachable moment where things are so low, and there is a kind of crossroads where you could go in, and you can just take hold and walk alongside that child.
“Having a consistent relationship, at that point, or being able to carry that forward with support is really, really, key. So that relationship could be established.
“Often, I think, what happens though, is that [it is missed] because of that need for that medical bed. And I've seen children get passed around like a hot potato…’somebody from CAMS is coming in but says he won't meet all thresholds.
“So the reality is that we can sit here and we know that the things that should happen. But on the ground, it doesn't always happen in the way that it needs to.
“I do think though that if you can carry that awareness and carry that aspiration, then you can think about how we're engaging services and how we're engaging with these children, and how we can make things better for them.
“How we make things better in terms of contextual safeguarding, and looking at how we tackle criminal exploitation. It's definitely a community effort and multi-agency effort. It can't just be done with with one worker with one agency. So you need those partnerships, need those processes in place.
“But my questions to all of you today are what can you do going forward in terms of improving contextual safeguarding for the children in our communities? What can you do to make these spaces and places that they're occupying safer?"
For more information on the University of Kent’s training simulations and courses, visit: https://www.kent.ac.uk/social-policy-sociology-social-research/centre-for-child-protection
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