Partnership working to tackle CSE

By Des Mannion

| 24 August 2018

The horrors of child sexual exploitation (CSE) have increasingly made national and international headlines as more and more appalling cases enter the public domain.

Cases such as Rochdale and Rotherham are some of the high-profile and extremely shocking examples of a problem in society which is being tackled with increased urgency.

Preventing CSE and working with those at risk of it is not easy, and any programme to do so must be flexible and innovative.

CSE is all too often a hidden crime. It is a type of abuse in which children and young people often receive gifts, money or affection as a result of taking part in sexual activity and because they sometimes trust their abuser fail to realise they are victims - indeed they often understand themselves to be in a healthy consensual relationship.

Social media and the internet pose massive problems in tackling the issue as it allows would-be groomers direct access to children and young people who may not be alive to the potentially dangerous nature of the web.

Tackling CSE in a digital age is no simple task, but this is where pioneering schemes such as the NSPCC's ‘Protect and Respect' can make difference with vulnerable young people at risk of exploitation.

It is aimed 11 to 19 year olds and covers three key areas - protection, risk reduction and recovery. Delivered through partnership working, one area where the programme is proving successful is in North Wales, where the charity is working alongside North Wales Police and other agencies.

At our base in Prestatyn, practitioners from the NSPCC regularly work with the force's specialist ONYX team.

Police officers gather intelligence about CSE so they can identify the current picture across North Wales - where it's happening, who are the victims and who is responsible. Following a referral, our specially-trained practitioners meet the young person at risk and carry out an assessment, beginning the process of assessing and addressing their needs.

Through a combination of one-to-one sessions and group work, we may work with a child for up to six months but it can be longer. ONYX maintains a supporting role in the initiative and stays in contact with young people it refers to us, offering help when required.

Importantly, the service offers bespoke support - for example, it is provided in Welsh when it is the spoken language of the young person.

The North Wales Safeguarding Children's Board, which includes the NSPCC, six local authorities, the local police force and health board plus key stakeholders, was also the first regional statutory body in the UK to adopt the NSPCC's harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) framework, in part due to the work of ‘Protect and Respect'.

The partnership between the NSPCC and North Wales Police, which has now been running for more than a year, is successfully linking child protection methods with the hard work of police officers in crime prevention and detection. 

Partnerships like this will be vital in the ongoing battle to prevent CSE and keep children safe.

Des Mannion is director of service at NSPCC Cymru

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