Children’s hearing system fails to address child sexual exploitation
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dr Sarah Nelson OBE, is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) and a research specialist on childhood sexual abuse and its effects across the lifecourse. Sarah’s book, ‘Tackling Child Sexual Abuse: Radical Approaches’, offers hope of more effective, imaginative means of protecting children and young people from sexual abuse.
ABOUT THE CRFR BLOG
This is the official blog of the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.
To keep up to date on all the latest posts and related events from CRFR, please subscribe via the button below.
This Blog is moderated by a CRFR representative who reserves the right to exercise editorial control over posted content.
Please note: the views expressed in a post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of CRFR.
Don’t consider child a victimYet when CSE was referenced in reports, this was often very briefly and was seldom included in social work recommendations to Children’s Hearings. Only 10% of recommendations explicitly referenced CSE. In Hearings’ decisions only 11% of decisions specifically referenced CSE and a further 16% alluded to it. In only 23 Hearings did the social work recommendation include or reference CSE. For 15 of the 44 children where CSE was explicit in their case files, (34%), there was evidence that an assessment of CSE risk had been carried out. Yet these assessments were not made available to the Children’s Reporter or Children’s Hearings. This, they say, is:
“A serious concern…sexual exploitation cannot be understood as a vague additional risk, but rather a lived traumatic reality for a significant minority of children and young people involved in the Children’s Hearings System.”Most Children’s Hearings do not therefore appear to be considering the child as a CSE victim when making decisions on statutory interventions. For children to receive interventions and services to protect them from sexual exploitation, the researchers argue, all involved in their care and welfare must have up to date information on children’s vulnerabilities and risks, to make effective decisions and plans. Children’s Panel Members and Children’s Reporters needed to be better informed and empowered to ask questions when a child has many vulnerabilities associated with CSE, but this is unnamed in reports.
Vulnerability – not behaviourMost risk assessment and risk management planning, they add, “focuses on the behaviours of children…. rather than dealing with the person or places/spaces that present risk to them. There is a need to look beyond a child’s behaviour and family circumstances to who is associating with the child, why they are doing this and… to better identify and protect those vulnerable to sexual exploitation”. On under-identification of boys, the researchers ask that tools and frameworks used to recognise and respond to CSE reflect the diversity of young people affected and the variety of the abuse. Boys and girls may experience different trajectories into and out of exploitation.
Recommendations for changeRecommendations include:
- Children’s Hearings Scotland and SCRA must ensure workers and volunteers have access to training on the identification of and response to CSE, and to tackle victim-blaming attitudes (such as “at risk from her sexual activities”, “placing herself in dangerous situations”, etc.)
- The Scottish Government must support cultural change throughout the sector to eradicate victim-blaming attitudes and language by delivering training, supporting internal audits and reporting progress.
- Models of contextual safeguarding (dealing with risk outside the home in the local environment) must be embedded in policy and practice. Child Protection Committees and Community Safety Partnerships can play important roles.
- SCRA must embed CSE-specific training for Reporters to improve knowledge, understanding and confidence on issues relating to CSE risk and information-sharing. Children’s Hearings Scotland must make CSE-specific training standard for Panel members, to foster “appropriate curiosity as to the nature of children’s experiences”.
- The Scottish Government must take responsibility for the recommendations in this report and assign their delivery to an appropriate national working group.
Policy Report: Sexual exploitation of children involved in the Children’s Hearing System
Nelson, S. (2016) Tackling Child Sexual Abuse: Radical approaches to prevention, protection and support’, Ch.4, ‘Stigmatised young people: from “abuse fodder” to key allies against abuse and sexual exploitation’, PP.133-175.