We can’t do this alone

Child criminal exploitation

I am a parent who has become and done many things in absolute desperation to try and keep my son safe from the harm and abuse of child criminal exploitation. I have moved areas, I have researched about child exploitation, I have gathered information and shared it with agencies and I have supported my son through extreme emotional and physical distress.

Yet despite all my efforts over many years, my son has become an adult who continues to be exploited by an organised crime group. I’m heartbroken. I feel fearful about his future. My mind constantly rakes over the past and asks, ‘what could I have done differently?’ I can’t stop myself thinking this, but I’m also aware that I have tried to meet all of the high needs of a deeply traumatised young man because I was the only person there.

I have been traumatised myself witnessing what he is going through, seeing the changes in him, being present when sometimes he can’t hold emotions in any longer and they spill out. Having a support worker from Ivison Trust gave me support, but no one has ever given my son support and the truth is he is deeply wounded and in need of specialist support.

Through his teen years and into adulthood, my son has experienced deeply traumatising experiences. He has witnessed the attempted murder of his friend and numerous acts of violence. He has been tied into made up financial debts. He has been kidnapped and tortured, sexually threatened and has received death threats. He lives daily with such fear and shame and with accumulated trauma that just keeps building. He tells me tiny parts of his life, but mostly he stays silent, partly I think due to shame and confusion but mainly because of the fear of the kinds of things that are done to those who are suspected of speaking out.

When I think about what could have been differently, I think about the difference a specialist support worker and mentor could have made to my son’s life. Having a person who really understood the environment of child criminal exploitation and who could have related to and engaged him. In my son’s situation he has a disability that makes him vulnerable to exploitation and purposefully targeted and he needs a person able to build a relationship and explain things in a way he can understand.

My experience, is that as a mother, I was recognising signs and indicators of what was happening and trying to share information and updates with services, but all too often I was viewed as being the problem due to a lack of understanding amongst professionals and bias towards parents. This means that as the sole person supporting my son, I am not listened to and it impacts upon the safeguarding. It would have helped to have had another supportive voice. Instead I was traumatised not only by the child exploitation, but by the professional response and actions that further depleted rather than supported.

Organised crime groups spend a lot of time, resources and energy into controlling children and yet the safeguarding provisions rarely spend time and resources and energy building any kind of relationship with exploited children. I repeatedly requested support for my son, but was told there was no funding. The truth is we are paying. There is the cost of me losing the son I knew and all he was capable of. There is the cost of crime on society, court cases, prison sentences, hospital admissions. Wouldn’t it be better to put the funds into early interventions with vulnerable children and young people?

I have felt so alone, but I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing a lack of support for my son. I don’t think I’m alone in knowing the kind of support and mentoring exploited young people need. This is why I joined parent participation, so that I can join with parents and carers who hear and understand me and we can raise our voices together and create change.