Reframing Blame: What Do We Need To Understand About Exploitation To Safeguard Young People

As part of EduCare’s campaign to ‘Reframe the blame’, we hosted a panel about exploitation with Craig Grady from The Children’s Society, Phil Ashford from NWG, Alexis Redwood from Gwent Missing, Exploited, Enslaved and Trafficked Children’s Team and our own Pastoral Care Specialist, Dawn Jotham.

Our panel debate at the Academies show started with an audio clip of a pupil accusing schools of being lazy and blaming them for their sanctions and ultimate exclusion. It was implied that the school blamed the child for their behaviour and actions, suggesting it was done by choice, and did not look at the reason why incidences were occurring throughout the school.

The concept of blame, whether it is criminalising a young person or blaming a school for excluding pupils, ran throughout the conversation with all parties agreeing that we all need to reframe that blame to safeguard against exploitation.

The key themes discussed were:

Learn best practice from Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Phil from NWG discussed how much we learnt from the recent high-profile CSE cases and apply to other types of exploitation such as County Lines and Criminal Exploitation.

We need to avoid those mistakes being made again.

Missing children and the link to exploitation

Alexis from Gwent Missing, Exploited, Enslaved and Trafficked Children’s Team emphasised how strong the links are between children who are missing and those who are being exploited. She cited that

“No child goes missing for no reason at all.”

And where schools may report that a child is truanting, behind that blame is a child who might be being exploited as the missing episode is during the day, when they should be at school, when the risk factors for exploitation are increased.

Listen: hear young people’s voices

Craig from The Children’s Society discussed the problem that schools face as capacity and resource are limited and talked about new ways to look and listen to what they have to say. Dawn from EduCare emphasised this point and advised that when working with children and young people every day, you can see what’s missing and build a picture.

Multi-agency working

The agreed response was that there needs to be systemic change to support schools when working with children who are being exploited and that agencies need to work together to safeguard all young people.

Schools cannot deal with this on their own and need to work with other professionals and agencies to support their children.

Empower your community

The panel all spoke about the need for a child to have a trusted adult who they can confide in. This won’t always be a teacher. The advice was to make sure the whole staff and community are empowered to fight exploitation. Alexis commented:

“You don’t know who that child will approach, it may be a lunchtime supervisor, it may be the librarian. It doesn’t matter.”

Reframing blame – implication of choice

Ed Dorrell, Head of Content from Tes, chaired the debate, and mentioned that there has been a recent increase in news coverage on County Lines, and reiterated that until recently the child has been positioned as the criminal.

He asked the panel:

“How hard is it to change attitudes and go from blame to victimhood?”

Everyone agreed that children and young people need to be seen as victims and not be criminalised. The issue of consent was discussed and how we have to be careful not to imply there is a choice. Just because it looks like they willingly went somewhere, or it looks like they are making lifestyle choices, no young person can consent to their own exploitation.

We also have to get the children and young people affected to reframe their own story. To realise they are victims themselves.

Early intervention

Although schools should not be alone in the fight against exploitation, they are often the best way opportunity to achieve early intervention. When parents start to realise something is going wrong, they will often go to the school first.

Grooming doesn’t always happen quickly, so early intervention is seen to be key to stop further exploitation from happening.

Exclusion is a key part of the debate

Exclusions will continue to be a serious part of the exploitation – with excluded pupils being one of the most vulnerable groups. The advice is to ask for help from local partners and charities as soon as possible.

Best practice and advice.

Ed asked the panel to think about what they would do if they were a newly qualified teacher and what they would do in the first day of a new job.

Alexis advised to look at every vulnerable child in the year group. Who is from a family where there is domestic violence? Who has suffered Adverse Childhood Experiences? She reiterated that it is these young people who are most vulnerable to exploitation. She advised NQTs to make sure the children “know who you are and that you are open to be talked to”.

Phil recommended to look for more information about your local safeguarding partnership. Who do you need to know? Which agency’s details you should have in your back pocket? How can they support you? A lot of the work NWG does is advise of what is available in any geographical area and are a good way to connect with what is available around you.

Craig shared the way that The Children’s Society work in any new area and that is to understand what is in the local context by speaking to the young people themselves and find out what makes them feel unsafe in their community.

Dawn called on her own pastoral experience and advised to try to “be the eyes and ears of the school, to do lunch duty and break duty, mingle, and let the young people talk to you. Make sure you know what are the names being mentioned”. She reiterated the need to make sure that all staff have got the right training to spot the signs and symptoms of exploitation and know how to refer on.

Thank you to EduCare Learning Ltd for allowing us to share this article