Parents – The missing piece of the safeguarding jigsaw – Maria Cassidy

Over the last year I have had the opportunity to talk with parents* across the country whose children have been sexually exploited where it was clear that parents were a missing piece in the safeguarding jigsaw. Frequently, parents were excluded from the decision-making process about their children, parents were often blamed for their child’s exploitation and there was little or no support on offer to help parents at a time when they so desperately needed and requested it. Alongside this I was also receiving requests from organisations who wanted to improve their response to parents but weren’t sure where to start. As a result of this, I pulled together a group of parents and practioners, working closely with PACE (Parents Against Child Exploitation) and their Parent Action Forum, to share what was working well and what professionals could have done to help parents. This informed the development of a benchmarking tool for working alongside parents. In addition, practitioners from across the NWG network and parents across the country fed into the benchmarking tool and helped shape it. * We have used parents but this includes all those with parental responsibility including parents, carers and wider family members

Some of the key learning from parents was:

  • Listen to parents
  • Relationships are key – build trusting relationships based on honesty and transparency
  • Communicate with parents, even when nothing is happening
  • Include parents as safeguarding partners
  • Remember the impact of trauma on the whole family
  • Parents need someone to work alongside them to navigate systems, processes and offer emotional support

The aim of the new Parents as Safeguarding Partners: CSE Benchmarking Tool is to assist safeguarding partners to self-assess how they are currently promoting the engagement of parents as partners in working to tackle CSE at strategic, commissioning and operational level, identifying their strengths and gaps in their multi-agency response to parent engagement. To really consider parents whose children are being sexually exploited as key safeguarding partners, we need to be thinking differently about how we view parents. Just as we wouldn’t expect an organisation to work in isolation to tackle CSE, we shouldn’t be expecting families to be left to cope with the complexities of our legal and statutory systems, the emotional fall out from CSE, on top of the fear and horror of knowing that your child is being exploited. There needs to be a culture change moving towards a view of parents as part of the solution rather than part of the problem and placing the blame for exploitation firmly with those perpetrators that are abusing children, not on family breakdown or relationships. It is now time for the missing piece of the jigsaw to be put in place at all levels to minimise risk, prosecute offenders and safeguard our children.

We are currently developing short practice documents to support this work including making meetings work for families that will be available to download from our website. If you would like to be part of the pilot to trial the benchmarking tool or if you have any questions on carrying out the assessment tool or its implementation, please email me at.