Keeping our children safe is always at the forefront of a parent’s or carer’s mind. As professionals working with vulnerable children, or as corporate parents of some of the most disadvantaged in our society, safety must also be the foundation of our work with children.
As we come together for this conference, ready to learn from each other, share our knowledge and experience, and listen to others’ views, we are mirroring the kind of collaborative culture that is central to putting safeguarding at the heart of our professional work.
This work is soon to change – the Children and Social Work Act, formally approved only two weeks ago, will bring about a raft of changes, aiming to put collaborative working on a stronger footing. Here in Greater Manchester, we are also getting to grips with what it means to have our first ever Metro Mayor, and all our public services will need to grapple with their place in this new world.
Working at one of the largest children’s charities in the UK, I have the privilege of being involved in some really exciting and innovative partnership working that is helping to keep children safe. Since 2016, we have been working with a partnership of funders including the local authority and the KPMG Foundation to help keep children and young people in Rotherham safe from sexual exploitation. With a diverse team from a range of professions including probation, teaching, social work, youth offending, counselling, psychotherapy, police and youth work, our service, ReachOut, works directly with young people at risk, as well as offering CSE awareness at schools and outreach work across the town.
More locally, all of the local authorities within Greater Manchester have been chosen alongside the Isle of Wight and Wales to be one of the early adopter sites for Barnardo’s Independent Child Trafficking Advocate Service (ICTAs), enabling professional support to children and young people who have potentially been trafficked. Following a successful trial in 2014-15, this service enables advocacy, guidance and signposting to relevant services, ensures a referral to the National Referral Mechanism, and will raise awareness and support professionals in their work with trafficked children and young people.
Working together, we can also better identify emerging problems.
Back in 2012, Barnardo’s and a group of local authorities in Greater Manchester had detected an increase in CSE in the area – an issue also identified by social care, schools, health, the police, education, youth services and other charities working with young people. In response to this shared problem, we developed a new programme for schools – now our flagship resource Real Love Rocks – to help children understand about healthy relationships and staying safe. As well as reaching thousands of children and young people, we have continued to work alongside other agencies to support both parents and professionals to spot the signs of CSE. It is hugely important for this agenda that, through the Children and Social Work Act, the Government has finally made teaching relationship and sex education compulsory in all schools in England from 2019.
Sometimes the imperative to keep children safe leads us to work with some unlikely partners. We ran Nightwatch, an innovative pilot project funded by the Department for Education, to provide training on CSE to nearly 17,000 people working in the night-time economy. Taxi drivers, doormen, car park operators, take-away and hotel staff – not our usual collaborators – came together with staff from Barnardo’s services to watch out for children who might be at risk of exploitation.
Sharing our expertise and experience is critical to developing the right response to the new and emerging risks our children and young people face.
How can we safeguard children who sexually harm other children, in a society which seeks to criminalise them as perpetrators? How do we safeguard children in the face of harmful cultural practises, such as FGM? How can we keep our children safe in light of ever-developing online threats? These are some of the most difficult issues our frontline services tackle and, in these fast-changing times, they can feel insurmountable. Only by pooling our expertise and collaborating with others, will we be able to meet these challenges head on, strengthen our response and keep children and young people safe.
Article by Lynn Perry MBE, Director of Children’s Services, Barnardo’s West