THE INDEPENDENT INQUIRY INTO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
Opening on behalf of PACE
- I represent a third sector organisation called PACE UK “Parents Against Child Exploitation”. It is a charity whose main aims are:
- To enable parents and carers to safeguard and stop their children being exploited.
- To provide evidence and specialist advice to demonstrate to councils and the police that parents and carers have an essential role in safeguarding.
- PACE works with parents and partners to disrupt and bring perpetrators to justice.
- PACE influences national and local policy and practice to reflect the active safeguarding role of parents and the impact on families of child exploitation.
- PACE sustains long term change by training partners in the active role of parents and carers safeguarding their children.
- PACE advocates that parents are a major part of the solution and should be central to the system of tackling exploitation.
- PACE recognises that just as every child is unique, every family’s situation requires an individual response. Consequently PACE offers one-to-one telephone support for parents whose children are being sexually exploited, or for those who are concerned their child is at risk.
- This organisation’s parent support workers provide independent, non-judgmental and confidential support, which fully recognises the rights of parents in decisions on how to reduce the risk of harm to their children. PACE listens to parents’ concerns, gives information on statutory agencies and procedures and passes on advice from other affected parents, should it be required. PACE never blames parents for what is happening to their child.
- Many local authorities and police and crime commissioning offices fund PACE to provide dedicated support to parents of sexually and criminally exploited children. PACE works in multi-agency teams tackling child exploitation. This enables parents to gain the understanding and support they need about what is happening to their child, share information they have to assist with the police investigation, and strengthen their ability to cope and reduce risks to the child.
- PACE is currently commissioned in 7 areas: Blackburn with Darwen, Rochdale, North Yorkshire, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield and Liverpool.
- Evidence shows that where PACE is embedded in the system safeguarding outcomes are much improved with a reduction in missing from home episodes, a reduction in children going into care. This is because parents’ ability to cope is strengthened.
- A report commissioned by PACE UK and researched by academics Nancy Pike, Maria Langham and Sarah Lloyd was published on 24th January 2020. The report is published on the PACE website.
- The study involved two parent focus groups of 11 parents and 1 grand-parent who had previously received support from PACE, and in-depth interviews with 20 individual parents. All participants had received support from PACE in the recent past (between April 2016 and March 2018). Key findings are these;
- Parents initially contacted Children’s Social Care for help when they realised their child was being sexually exploited. The responses they encountered led them to believe that Children’s Social Care services were ill-equipped to deal with this form of exploitation. Parents reported a lack of understanding of child sexual exploitation among Children’s Social Care staff and a failure to address the risks and harms their child was facing. They frequently described the following issues;
- There were often considerable delays between parents raising their concerns with Children’s Social Care and receiving any response. Delays had ranged from one month to two years with many families waiting over 3 months for an initial assessment.
- There was a lack of understanding of CSE amongst social care staff who often minimised or dismissed the risks and harms a child was facing.
- Interventions usually only focused on either the exploited child or the parents. There was little focus on the disruption or prosecution of perpetrators and consequently abuse was able to continue.
- Parents frequently felt alone in managing the threats to their child and putting safety measures in place. Even when exploitation and abuse escalated and a child’s distress manifested in violent outbursts, depression, self-harm or suicide attempts, parents were mostly left to cope alone.
- Parents described being treated as ‘inadequate’ or being seen as in some way ‘to blame’ for their child’s exploitation. Some had been offered generic parenting courses, but none had been offered training relating to sexual violence or supporting victims of CSE.
- There was rarely much attempt by social care staff to engage meaningfully with the exploited child or build a trusting relationship with them.
- Social care staff displayed little trauma-awareness either in terms of understanding a child’s behaviour or understanding the impact of secondary trauma on other family members. In some instances, parental distress had been interpreted as evidence of an inability to be a good parent.
- Parents’ difficult relationships with Children’s Social Care depleted their energy and sometimes exacerbated already challenging situations putting their child at even greater risk.
- Some parents reported having a supportive relationship with an individual member of children’s social care staff, but even where this was the case, they did not feel supported by the Social Care system as a whole.
- The scene is not entirely negative. By way of positive examples;
- Alexis Jay’s Rotherham Report has served as a catalyst. Her report on the extent of CSE in Rotherham published 6 years ago in August 2014 was a turning point for many working in the field of CSE. The report laid bare the institutional bias and hostile culture against victims and their families and vindicated everything that PACE had been saying since its inception in 1996.
- In terms of the Government Response to Rotherham, Local Children’s Safeguarding Boards have been given a mandatory duty to tackle CSE.
- Child sexual abuse was given the status of “national threat” in the Strategic Policing Requirement so it is now prioritised by every police force.
- Yet the PACE experience shows that in practice these changes have not translated into good coal face practice. Many practitioners are struggle to get their heads round the complexity of CSE and how to best respond.
In the opinion of PACE Social Care are still working to a child protection model based on;
- Young children not teenagers
- Abuse within the home not outside
- Children seen in isolation and not as part of a family, and by implication only professionals can provide solution to CSE
- PACE sees parents who are traumatised by seeing their child victimised and abused and who want to do everything in their power to help. Yet still they are treated as part of the problem.
- PACE wants parents recognised as the central resource in the fight against exploitation.