The Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention Programme: Reflections of a Prevention Officer

I’m writing this as I sit on a train, travelling back from my final supervision session as a Prevention Officer. As the National CSAE Prevention Programme comes to a close and we are tying up loose ends the time lends itself to reflection, both individually and as a group. There is an overwhelming feeling of sadness, but also a profound and growing sense of pride and achievement.

The Prevention Programme was commissioned by Mr Simon Bailey, Chief Constable for Norfolk and the National Police Chief Council’s lead for Child Protection. The Prevention Programme is a joint initiative between Police, The Children’s Society and Victim Support, funded for one year between March 2017 and March 2018.  As voluntary sector Prevention Officers, we joined an already established network of regional Police CSE Coordinators and Analysts based in the Regional Organised Crime Unit’s across England and Wales. As a network, we have worked to collect intelligence and bring insight through partnership engagement, helped identify ‘hotspots’ and priority areas, provide tactical advice and help bridge gaps in evidence based knowledge, coordinate and deliver targeted prevention activities, and develop nine regional CSAE Prevention Strategies, as well as national ones for both England and Wales. We have also developed a number of toolkits and resources which can be found on our website: https://www.csepoliceandprevention.org.uk

Being a network of ten covering each policing region in England and Wales certainly has its advantages. One of the strengths of the programme was in the recruitment; as Prevention Officers we have a wide range of skills and experience; including police, social care, health, human rights law, perpetrators and harmful sexual behaviour, criminal exploitation, education, ISVA, IDVA, LGBTQ+ and of course a wealth of CSA and CSE experience. Throughout the programme we have drawn on each other’s knowledge, using our practice and academic experience to full advantage. Another key strength is our ability to share learning, best practice and innovation across the country. So for instance if the East Midlands has a query, it may be that the South West, armed with trumpets and capes, come to the rescue. There has been a value in our ability to work without county restrictions or even regional borders, meaning we have been in a position to deliver service where others would have been restricted geographically. As a network, we’ve also been able to support each other, providing resilience and responding to need across the country.

The ability to cover such a large area and share our learning across England and Wales means we are in the unusual position of being able to see wider trends and the bigger picture.  It did not take long to realise that the same issues are prevalent across the country, but there continues to be a lack of consistency, both regionally and nationally, in addressing these. These include lack of support for parents and carers, lack of intelligence into Police, inconsistencies around Return Home Interviews, and lack of awareness around and the need for a safeguarding response to child criminal exploitation. Moving forward, a recommendation of the programme is for cross-directional regional and national responses. We have also been able to use our position to highlight gaps; across the country investment is desperately needed for therapeutic support for children and young people, both in relation to CSE but also a greater focus on other forms of CSA, including addressing harmful sexual behaviours.

A further strength of our programme is the work we have done with and alongside services to share expertise, learning, views and perspectives. What we have found, but that may not be a surprise is that multi-agency working also needs to extend to promote sharing of information and practice across authorities, force areas and regions. The competitive world of bids and tenders and the scramble for resource can make this seem difficult, but the importance cannot be underestimated. A whole society approach is needed in order to take steps towards tackling the issue of CSAE, and as resources shrink and demand increases we need to respond in unity, with joint, holistic and innovative approaches.

Nationally we have also mapped gaps in practical knowledge and the need for raising awareness, for example around how to share intelligence. We have seen the need for a multiple vulnerabilities approach, and increased knowledge and awareness of wider exploitation including child criminal exploitation, trafficking, modern slavery and the NRM.

Yet, all of this aside, what the programme has proved overall is that there is an absolute need and a real desire for preventative work building on contextual safeguarding approaches. When we’ve delivered sessions to partners we have been able to see their interest and their level of understanding increase, and so many feedback forms have said ‘need to know more.’ Given our ability to respond creatively and flexibly, we have been able to upskill and empower sectors that wouldn’t normally receive this focus, including sports coaches and clubs, the Security Industry Authority’s licence holder’s, employees at Dixon’s Retail outlets, shopping centre outlets, Trampoline Parks, YMCA, Butlin’s, BTP, train providers, McDonalds, tattoo parlours and Youth Offending Teams. We have engaged with hundreds of services and agencies, worked alongside the church and delivered CSE awareness to young people at Wells Cathedral, delivered sessions to children and young people not in mainstream education, engaged with faith communities, convened a regional RHI Service Manager event which will continue as a network, delivered training to homeless hostels and hostels for young people, and many, many more. We have had success where preventative interventions have moved beyond just awareness raising and we have sought tangible change; raising awareness alongside systemic changes in the approach to CSAE. At the time of writing this the direct reach is around 15,000 and the indirect reach, via media and social media is thought to be in excess of 5,100,000.

The programme and network has been academically evaluated by Dr Debbie Allnock at the University of Bedfordshire. This evaluation was positive about the progress made, and the plan is to share it across the UK and internationally as innovation and best practice.

As with everything the project has had its limitations – we have been restricted by geography and capacity, individual Prevention Officers covering large areas. The impact has been difficult to evaluate- especially when we have delivered so many different innovative and bespoke interventions which have responded to local need or intelligence. One of the key findings from the programme is that services should be commissioned and funded on a longer term basis. The issue of short term funding is one that has raised many challenges for us, particularly as at the time of writing there is no continuation funding for our roles. The success of most of this work relies on strong relationship and partnership working and with constant change to services this can be difficult to maintain.

It would be wrong to conclude this without mentioning the Police CSE Coordinator and Analyst network, who embraced and supported us, listened to us, imparted their wisdom and really valued our knowledge and third sector expertise. It is fair to say there was some reticence as to how these relationships would work, but it has been a resounding success.

As Prevention Officer’s we couldn’t have achieved what we have without our managers; Carly, Danielle, Rhiannon and Ruth. The support, advice, guidance and passion you have shared with us has been instrumental, and I can’t stress enough the incredible impact you have had. We wouldn’t be where we are today without you, often in the background. So thank you.

And finally I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside such proud, passionate, innovative, creative and principled people. This is not only within our team, wider with our police colleagues but also the partner agencies we’ve met along the way, who have supported this work and shared knowledge, resources, time and positive energy. There is so much strength in this sector, and in this field.

So, from the Prevention Officers, this is adieu. Thank you for everything, it’s been wonderful.

Stephanie Atkinson 

The Prevention Team