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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks investigation report


F.6: Protecting and supporting children

39. Recent examples of prevention from the case study areas include a Barnardo’s CSE training and outreach project worker in Warwickshire and the Operation Topaz CSE prevention and coordination officer in Bristol.[1]

40. As part of managing local authority financial pressures, youth services in councils have tended to shift from offering universal to targeted services. As a result, children deemed to be at low risk of sexual exploitation may be referred to youth services and receive targeted support from youth workers. Examples include Durham, Warwickshire, St Helens and Bristol.[2] As we have seen in other investigations, there is a concern that when financial pressures arise, non-statutory services of this kind are amongst the first to face budget reductions despite their important role.

41. In the context of youth work, outreach is typically aimed at particularly vulnerable and/or marginalised groups that, for a variety of reasons, are not effectively reached by mainstream services. Outreach workers can be effective in reaching vulnerable children, helping to identify unmet needs and building trusting relationships that allow other work to take place.[3] They can also have a role in gathering intelligence from street work with young people that the police may not otherwise have obtained and often work closely with statutory agencies sharing information about specific perpetrators and particular locations where exploitation takes place.

42. Outreach specifically targeted to victims of child sexual exploitation did not occur in some of the case study areas.

43. Direct support work with sexually exploited young people takes place in a variety of contexts, ranging from specialist therapeutic services to practitioners who do some child sexual exploitation support work as part of a more generalist role.[4] There was specialist provision by Barnardo’s in Swansea, Warwickshire and Bristol. The South Wales National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) Protect and Respect project also delivers specialist services in Swansea. St Helens commissions Catch22 to provide a child sexual exploitation support service and Tower Hamlets provides child sexual exploitation support services through the NSPCC Protect and Respect service, the St Giles Trust and the London-wide services offered by the Children’s Society.[5]

44. The need for services for sexually exploited children to adopt trauma-informed approaches and to have an understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences were recurrent themes in the Inquiry.[6] The importance of services being delivered by suitably trained and experienced staff cannot be overemphasised and more should be done to support non-specialist staff. There were several examples of children being sexually abused and traumatised while living in residential homes before eventually being moved to specialist residential services which had an understanding of trauma and were able to provide therapeutic support. These include CS-A26 in St Helens, CS-A22 in Tower Hamlets and CS-A302 in Bristol.[7]

45. The evidence demonstrated that in some areas care leavers and older children aged 16 or 17 years did not receive adequate support in all cases. In St Helens, Ms McKenna of Catch22 identified an issue with 16–17-year-olds being “overlooked” in St Helens and an “apathy” from various agencies.[8] Whilst aged 16, CS-A34 was considered to be at significant risk of sexual exploitation. He had been the victim of a sexual offence whilst living in temporary accommodation, following which he was taken into care. He then had a large number of separate placements during a two-month period, two of which were in temporary overnight accommodation, and was the victim of further sexual offences during this period. He did not always feel safe in the accommodation that was being provided. An independent reviewing officer at a looked-after-child review recommended that a foster care placement be found for CS-A34.[9] More positive practice was evidenced in Swansea, where CS-A220 and CS-A56, both care leavers, had supported accommodation and specialist care provided beyond their 18th birthdays.[10]

46. Revised statutory guidance on child sexual exploitation should place greater emphasis on the responsibilities of local authorities to sexually exploited care leavers and other 16 and 17-year-old children.

47. There is also evidence that children are struggling to access necessary mental health support from Child and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS). This appears to be a national problem with care being described as “rarely available” or not meeting needs.[11] One particular problem is that, in most areas CAMHS referral criteria exclude trauma symptoms.[12] Concern has also been raised that when appointments are offered they are insufficiently flexible in terms of timing and location.[13] There is also evidence that some CAMHS referrals have been declined because the mental health difficulties being experienced by children have been attributed to a “normal” reaction to abuse.[14] The Care Quality Commission has said that “sometimes children and young people and the families reach the crisis point before they end up getting help”.[15] Issues with a lack of access to CAMHS in the case study areas are discussed further in Part J. CAMHS has told us that it is taking steps to improve capacity and flexibility.

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