Children’s social care practice faces several challenges to delivering better outcomes for young people – none more complex and damaging than criminal exploitation.

Every day multi-agency services and practitioners are successfully safeguarding children, but when the system fails the effects are devastating to individuals, their families and our communities.

With over twenty years’ experience of prosecuting child abuse cases, I know first-hand how complex tacking these issues can be. It’s not only possible for children to be both victims and perpetrators of serious harm, but a one size fits all approach is not the solution.

That’s why all child safeguarding partners – police, local authority and health professionals – among a myriad of other agencies, need to find new approaches to protecting children whose daily lives are filled with violence and fear.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel reviews the most serious cases of child abuse and neglect, so we can identify lessons which could prevent such devastating incidents from happening again. Since the Panel was established in July 2018, we’ve received over 500 serious safeguarding notifications. Over 230 of these involved children who tragically died.

We’ve seen a worrying number of cases involving criminal exploitation and our new report aims to identify what could have been done differently. It asks whether services designed to keep young people safe from criminal exploitation are working, and we hope we’ve found some solutions to improve the system.

This is the first time we’ve conducted a national review into cases where children have died, or been seriously harmed, and we welcome feedback. It’s a qualitative study of 21 cases from 17 local areas and by listening to young people, as well as those put in place to protect them, we’ve tried to get to the heart of what might be done differently to improve practice.

We also visited areas of emerging good practice so we could learn from local teams who are trying new approaches.

Together, we’ve developed recommendations for frontline practitioners so they can spot the signs of extra-familial abuse, which can help to reduce risk. These include:

  • Ensuring there is immediate wrap-around support to compensate for the lack of structure, sense of belonging and rejection that exclusion from mainstream school can cause.
  • Having a clear and consistent long-term plan when considering moving a child out of the area.
  • Cautiously using control measures, such as electronic tags, where there is a good relationship with the child and with parental support.
  • Being flexible to respond when a child has reached a critical moment, such as after an injury or presenting at accident and emergency services.
  • Working with policing to safeguard a child when they have just been arrested.

But tackling this issue cannot be done by local areas alone. The Panel is calling on Government to trial and fund pilots of a new practice framework so we can protect these vulnerable young people. And this is just one of several recommendations that we’ve outlined for central government to help safeguard our children.

As an independent body we want to ensure that safeguarding isn’t about ticking the right boxes or completing the right forms. We commission reviews which we consider to be complex, or of national importance, to capture the learning so these victims did not suffer in vain.

This, our first review, will pave the way for future multi-agency work and, with the help of practitioners and central government, add to the learning so we can help the most vulnerable people in our society.

Blog AuthorDale Simon CBE, Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel