Since the publication of Professor Jay’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham back in 2013, the field has never been far from professionals, politicians, the media, and communities’ minds. Professionals tackling CSE across a range of sectors and disciplines have been subject to a degree of scrutiny even the most experienced practitioners may not have previously experienced.
The increased interest in addressing this form of abuse has resulted in an increase in spending aimed at improving agency responses to children at risk of CSE. The government’s Tackling CSE Action plan has seen £40 million invested nationally including the development of the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse/Exploitation and the CSE Response Unit. Regionally and locally CSE has also been prioritised by local authorities, police forces, health agencies, as well as the voluntary sector.
However, in an ever-changing world the fight to tackle CSE faces competition for funding and resourcing from the increased threat of terrorism and radicalisation, as well as increased awareness of other forms of child exploitation for example ‘county lines’. This has lead many agencies and partnerships to consider how best to meet these competing priorities, whilst never losing sight of our primary aim – to keep children safe from harm.
The challenge we face as professionals is to ensure that the progress we have made in tackling CSE, is not lost as other safeguarding issues come to the fore, but instead enables us to consider implementing learning from our experiences of addressing CSE in addressing these other forms of exploitation. This approach should also respect the voices of those, including CSE victims and survivors, who are quite right to remind us we have not completed the task of tackling this form of abuse.
As the operational lead for the CSE Response Unit I consider myself to be privileged to travel the length and breadth of the country and witness first hand the dedication of professionals in this field. The unit has the opportunity to identify emerging innovative practice and nurture its development, whilst also drawing attention to effective practice.
Professionals readily acknowledge CSE does not take place in isolation and many of the children, families, and communities we support will be affected by multiple safeguarding issues. Our response needs to reflect that and not look to label individuals and work within our professional silos. It is pleasing to see a more universal approach to exploitation and vulnerability being championed at a national level and implemented locally, which should help make the most of the resources at our disposal.
Vitally important to this work is the partnership between practice and research, which should be a mutually beneficial relationship. Universities and other research facilities have begun to publish papers that are more accessible to those on the frontline, which can provide an evidence base for new or existing ways of working. Recently there has been pockets of tension between academics and practitioners. There will always be professional disagreements – friction means we are working at the edges of our professions and challenging each other, but this should remain professional and constructive.
All the best for 2018
Phil Ashford – Response Unit Operational Lead
T: 01332 585371