We must listen

We commend the bravery of families involved in the recent Huddersfield and Rotherham trials and all families affected by child sexual exploitation. The families we work alongside across the UK have worked tirelessly to ensure the exploiters are brought to justice, and to safeguard their children.

There are so many families who have been let down in the past. I am not just talking about Huddersfield and Rotherham –  but across the country. Parents tell us they feel judged and blamed by services designed to support them. They feel they are not listened to.

We need to listen to families and support them. Parents we work alongside are part of the solution and not the problem; their ultimate goal is to safeguard their child. The trauma families experience through the exploitation of their child can also go unrecognised.

Today, child exploitation is much better understood and there are examples of good practice within multi-agency teams. However, this is still the beginning of a journey and support remains inconsistent across the UK – there is much more that needs to be done. We welcome current and future partnership arrangements to work alongside agencies to tackle this.

The child protection system needs to change for cases of child exploitation by abusers from outside of the family home.  This is because the system is primarily designed to tackle abuse and neglect within the home. Therefore, it places responsibility for the abuse on parents and families.

Parents we work alongside have a vital role to play in statutory safeguarding arrangements – they are the leading experts of their child. They are also there to support their child, long after support services end. We must listen to them, and understand the true impact CSE has on the whole family.

Our Relational Safeguarding Model builds families’ resilience and confidence to safeguard their child. It ensures families are listened to by agencies and services, and their needs are met. This increases protective factors around the child and strengthens safeguarding arrangements. Through this approach:

  • parents can feel less isolated, judged and blamed
  • parents are empowered to gather enhanced intelligence and evidence which is passed to the police to disrupt and convict those responsible
  • there can be a reduction in missing episodes, family breakdown and the number of children going into care
  • there is increased attendance at court
  • parental engagement can support victimless prosecutions
  • as a multi-agency hub we have an enhanced understanding of families’ needs
  • agencies capacity to safeguard the child is maximised.

Today, we work within several multi-agency teams across the UK through our Parent Liaison Officer programme working alongside agencies to embed this model – and it underpins everything we do.

This includes our training programme comprising our Level 4 Accredited Award based on our 22 years’ experience of working alongside affected families – bringing together leading experts including families affected, and former Chief Prosecutor Nazir Afzal who has led the prosecution of numerous CSE trials.

There is still a long way to go. We need to work together to embed a system which recognises the vital role of families in safeguarding arrangements, and no longer blames them. We must work together to create positive change, and tackle this horrendous crime.

Gill Gibbons