Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Barnardos [LCG 07]

Executive Summary

1. Barnardo’s has been working on the issue of child sexual exploitation for over 18 years. We are glad to contribute to the Home Affairs Select Committee review of challenges faced in bringing successful prosecutions against those involved in grooming children for sexual exploitation. Barnardo’s gathers data on service users who are groomed locally and those drawn into exploitation in other ways so our submission gives our responses to the questions as they relate to the issue of child sexual exploitation as a whole.

2. This submission draws on statistical evidence from Barnardo’s UK-wide service-base of 21 services and almost 1,200 service-users. However, the points raised are specifically applicable to England as Barnardo’s understands this is the area covered by the review.

3. Barnardo’s has seen significant improvements in agencies’ understanding of and response to child sexual exploitation within the last five years. Since 2010–11 the combination of high profile prosecutions and the government’s national action plan has reinforced the attention that statutory agencies give to this abuse. Barnardo’s services and research on sexual exploitation both indicate that this increased attention has been accompanied by widespread efforts to improve local responses, through greater provision of training, development of local strategies and proliferation of multi-agency partnership working.

4. In particular, Barnardo’s has noted improvements in the support provided to vulnerable young people by the police in many areas. At a strategic level, local police forces have been central to the development and delivery of coordinated multi-agency responses in many areas. At the frontline, police officers demonstrate notably better understanding of the vulnerabilities and needs of young people who are at risk of or are already being exploited. Within the last two years, Barnardo’s has observed that greater numbers of local multi-agency teams are being established to identify and support victims and police are involved in a high proportion of these, with many teams co-located with the police.

5. Despite the greater interest in and improved efforts to tackle child sexual exploitation, Barnardo’s is aware that local responses remain inconsistent, data monitoring of cases is very patchy and specialist provision for victims is still not widespread. The limitations of local action on child sexual exploitation create a number of challenges to prosecutions.

Barnardo’s Knowledge Base

6. Barnardo’s has been working on the issue of child sexual exploitation for over 18 years, supporting victims, informing policy, raising awareness and conducting research so it is better understood. We now have 21 services across the UK (17 in England, one serving the whole of Northern Ireland, two in Scotland and one serving much of Wales).

7. Our specialist sexual exploitation services worked with 1,190 young people and children in 2010–11. These services have seen notable increases in referrals in recent years and service user figures rose by 8.4% in 2010–11. We are currently gathering data for 2011–12 but initial indications are that services have worked with even greater numbers of children who are at very high risk or actively being sexually exploited.

8. Barnardo’s specialist sexual exploitation services provide direct support to vulnerable or victimized children and young people through one-to-one sessions with a single support worker and, where appropriate, through group sessions. The children and young people are supported to recognize risks and to identify how individuals and relationships could be harming them. As our work is focused on helping them to move on to more positive experiences, these services also actively support their engagement in education, provide access to training or employment opportunities and use leisure activities such as cinema visits to re-engage vulnerable children and young people with mainstream activities. The services will also provide third-party advice and guidance to other professionals who are concerned about a child or young person but for whom a referral is not (yet) necessary.

9. Barnardo’s combines its service provision with work to inform professionals, the public, politicians and policy makers. Our specialist services provide training to professionals in recognizing the signs of sexual exploitation, developing appropriate response strategies and supporting victims. Many services also deliver awareness-raising sessions to parents and carers, and some work with parents or carers if this is in the interests of the service user themselves. We also train foster-carers for young people who have been sexually exploited or trafficked; this is a two-year pilot funded by the Department for Education.

10. Barnardo’s Strategy Unit carries out research with services and service users to refine our understanding of this abuse, and works with voluntary-sector and statutory agencies to promote awareness both of individual cases and the overall range and scale of child sexual exploitation. The research includes evaluation of Barnardo’s specialist services and, recently, an econometric analysis of the financial benefits (to the Treasury) of these child sexual exploitation services. The Bank of England economists who conducted the analysis (pro bono) concluded that Barnardo’s provision saved £12 for every £1 spent.1

11. The Strategy Unit works to inform policy, practice and resource-allocation by engaging closely with key government departments and representative bodies such as the Local Government Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers. Barnardo’s also has a campaign to “Cut them free” from child sexual exploitation. This was launched in January 2011 with calls for a lead minister to be appointed and a national action plan to be produced, both of which were fulfilled in 2011. The campaign subsequently called on local authorities to commit to tackling this abuse and over two-thirds (107 of 152) have. The campaign is now focused on informing Police and Crime Commissioners candidates.

The Concept of “Localised Grooming of Children for Sexual Exploitation”

12. Barnardo’s is glad that the Home Affairs Select Committee is considering the challenges faced in bringing successful prosecutions against those involved in grooming children for sexual exploitation. Please note that our evidence relates to the broader term of “child sexual exploitation” as we gather data on our service users who were groomed locally and those drawn into sexual exploitation through other means.

13. Through our work with almost 1,200 victims and highly vulnerable children a year, we are aware that child sexual exploitation can take many forms. The manner by which victims are groomed varies greatly, from face-to-face contact with someone who comes to be thought of by the victim as their “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”, to online or phone-based contact with someone the victim may not meet in person. In the context of online or phone-based contact it is difficult to apply the concept of “localised” grooming. Even where grooming is face-to-face it may not be “local” as vulnerable young people are often encouraged to travel out of area to meet with abusers. There is also the issue of children in care being moved out of borough for care placements, and either being groomed in the new area or followed by those who were already grooming them. Abusers will also travel to initiate and conduct sexual exploitation, so the grooming may not be conducted locally to either victim or abuser.

14. Barnardo’s would ask that the Home Affairs Select Committee consider that the length of time taken to “groom” an individual victim can also be very short, and may not appear to involve much of what is understood as typical initiation of child sexual exploitation. Many of the victims Barnardo’s works with have been groomed over a significant time, but this is not always the case, and with our male service-users in particular it can be very difficult to know how the grooming has occurred. The case of an 11 year-old girl (not a Barnardo’s service-user) considered in a recent Attorney General’s Reference Case shows the process of engaging a vulnerable child or young person in subsequent sexual exploitation (grooming) can take moments:

15. On the night … the complainant was out late while her mother was working. She lost contact with her female friend and found herself alone in Luton town centre. … She was approached by a 16 year old boy who was well known to the complainant’s family. … The boy threatened to tell her mother that she had been with men and then told her that she should go with him to do something for him. Without knowing what it was that he wanted of her the complainant accompanied him … [and] … saw the two offenders. She was taken by all three males to the flats opposite [and raped] (Attorney General’s Reference Cases 011 and 012 of 2012.)2

What proportion of victims are in care/otherwise known to social services?

16. Social services are made aware of the young people with whom Barnardo’s specialist sexual exploitation services are working. In England, Barnardo’s services often request that the young person is also given a social worker to ensure there is ongoing support. However, only a minority of service users are referred to Barnardo’s by social services.

17. Barnardo’s has a comprehensive monitoring system to ensure it is making a difference to its service users. This Outcomes Monitoring Framework (OMF) data can be collated anonymously. Collating information on the 3,528 children and young people who have used our sexual exploitation services between January 2006 and July 2012 shows that:

over a third had been referred by social services (1,300 or 37%);

almost a third were in care while at our service or when referred (1,089 or 31%); and

two-thirds of those referred by social services were not in care when referred (868 or 67% of the 1,300 referred by social services).

18. The data indicates that a significant minority of victims (almost a third) are in the care of local authorities around the time of referral (note some will go into care after referral). Another minority of victims (over a third) were referred by social services, and most of these were not in care at the time of referral. Clearly children in care are significantly over-represented among Barnardo’s sexual exploitation service users; this is consistent with other statistical evidence of children in care’s greater vulnerability to this abuse. Social services do refer many of those who are in care but this data indicates that most of those they identify as needing support are not in care—however, social services still do not refer the majority of young people to our services. It might be expected that the overall numbers of children referred by social services will increase with the creation of more sensitive referral systems and widespread training about the signs of exploitation.

19. Barnardo’s has seen considerable variation between social services’ criteria for triggering involvement in individual cases of child sexual exploitation. Some local authorities have specific referral and assessment procedures for suspected cases but others use only the standard child protection procedures. The standard child protection procedures can be set at too high a threshold to “trigger” until a very vulnerable child is actively exploited, so the signs of vulnerability and the signs of grooming or incipient abuse may be noticed but the generic system does not facilitate response. Having a system which is designed to attend to the specific indications of child sexual exploitation enables social services to be more responsive overall and to identify and tackle individual cases at an earlier stage.

20. Barnardo’s is also aware that social services sometimes assess child protection cases in such a way that a 15-year old who is actively exploited may not receive an appropriate response because they are considered too old to be prioritized. There is also evidence of social service professionals (and those in other key agencies) interpreting exploited young people as having consented, so the activity is not identified as abuse. Barnardo’s staff (and those in other specialist services) address misunderstandings as they arise but social services should ensure that staff are well informed and use systems appropriately.

Do social service response systems take adequate account of signs of abuse?

21. In some local authorities, Barnardo’s specialist services have worked with social services to refine or update their procedures, either directly or through the Local Safeguarding Children Board. In these and other areas, social services staff have had training from Barnardo’s on identifying the signs of child sexual exploitation, as well as understanding vulnerabilities and risk factors, and planning appropriate responses. Barnardo’s is aware that such training is also being delivered by a number of other agencies and that many local authorities have now had local multi-agency training on child sexual exploitation.

22. In a review of local authority action on child sexual exploitation (conducted this month), Barnardo’s interviewed representatives from 31 local authorities, one in five of all local authorities with safeguarding responsibilities in England.3 Twelve local authorities were delivering or using training on child sexual exploitation and a further thirteen were scoping or developing training programmes to be rolled out within the next six months.

What support is provided to victims and witnesses by a range of agencies?

23. Barnardo’s has noted a widespread improvement in the support provided to victims of child sexual exploitation over the two decades we have been delivering services. There are many more specialist services across the UK than there were even five years ago and our own services report marked changes in how many statutory services respond to sexually exploited young people. However, it is also apparent that some agencies are improving more rapidly than others, and that all agencies need to ensure that their core staff have appropriate training, particularly to address any misunderstanding of “consent”.

Voluntary sector

24. The voluntary sector was the original and is still the main provider of specialist support to children and young people who are sexually exploited—or identified as being at high risk. There has been a notable expansion in the range of provision within the sector as specialists in other fields, such as projects working with young people who go missing, have identified the importance of and opportunities for supporting sexually exploited young people. In addition to the growth in the voluntary-sector, the last two years has seen a significant increase in the development of statutory multi-agency (sometimes co-located) teams offering specialist support.

25. However, many areas still do not have specific services. Of the 31 local authorities who responded to our recent survey of local authority action on child sexual exploitation, only half provided their own specialist services or received voluntary-sector provision.4 A further third were in the process of scoping the need for specialist services, or were considering future provision for young people at risk of sexual exploitation. We know that Barnardo’s remains the largest provider with 21 of the 80-plus services listed by the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People website.5

26. For the voluntary-sector services such as Barnardo’s the focus is always on the victim, so a service will support a young person in considering whether to pursue a prosecution against an abuser and whether and how to be involved as a witness, and will then assist them in the path they have chosen. It is important of course that services are not seen to be influencing a service user who does pursue prosecution, and supporting a young person during a court case can pose significant challenges to the key worker; however, most services will—like Barnardo’s—have clear systems in place to facilitate this so that the young person can retain the supportive relationship without questions being raised. It is crucial that young people receive this ongoing support at such a time of great stress. Not only does it give them consistency with a trusted adult, which they may not have in other areas of their life, but the key worker can play an important role in helping them to navigate the court system. The service can also play a significant role in supporting young people after prosecution, especially if the case has fallen apart or the sentence is shorter than expected. It is not yet clear the extent to which these observations hold for the emergent statutory teams, especially given that many of them include the police.


27. Barnardo’s has noted a substantial improvement in local police forces’ interest in and understanding of child sexual exploitation. Since 2009, Barnardo’s services have noted year-on-year improvements in local police responses to service users and to the issue in general. Increasingly, police forces where we have our services are viewed as playing a significant if not leading role in local action and strategic responses to this abuse. Eleven of the 31 local authorities in our survey highlighted the police’s role in the local strategic response. In five areas the police had specialist facilities and procedures for those at risk of sexual exploitation. In two areas, police chaired the sub-group. In two areas, agencies working with sexually exploited children were co-located with the police. Police were identified more often than any other agency as being central to this work.

28. Improvements have been reported by our services at both the police frontline and their more strategic level. At a strategic level, the issue has been given greater attention and, in some areas, additional resources in terms of policing time to profile the local problem or to work in multi-agency teams focused on tackling this abuse. Many police forces are involved in the development of local authority or regional strategic plans on child sexual exploitation. At the frontline, police officers and support staff are demonstrating better understanding of young people’s vulnerabilities and our services report they are dealing with them more appropriately—whether being more attentive to the risks of abuse if a young person has been identified as missing or being more supportive if they are known to be exploited. A number of our services allow police to visit young people on site, if the young person agrees, so they can provide information and consider being a witness.

29. Despite the improvements noted by our services, very few of our service users have seen their alleged abuser convicted. In 2009–10, our services were aware of 137 police investigations involving service users as victims of crimes relating to sexual exploitation. Of the 130 which had concluded, only 40 were taken to prosecution (it is worth noting that the largest sub-set of cases, 12 or a third of all, were for grooming via the internet). Our service staff in England say the police typically do a lot to prepare the young person for the court case but it is the court system itself that is often seen as problematic.

Crown Prosecution Service

30. Barnardo’s has not conducted a thorough review of the prosecution experience of our sexual exploitation service users, but in discussions of policing, prosecutions and court experiences our service staff have identified decisions by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute specific cases as having reduced local confidence in the value of seeking justice. Service staff do not influence young people’s decisions over whether to pursue prosecution and stand as a witness, and so individual cases are led by the young person. However, service staff have reflected to the research and policy staff about the challenge of supporting young people through to prosecution after seeing other cases end as the Crown Prosecution Service decides that a young person is not “a credible witness”. One local authority which responded to our recent survey of action on exploitation raised a similar issue, unprompted. The local authority said that the potential arising from the positive changes seen in policing had been blocked by a lack of attitudinal change in the Crown Prosecution Service, limiting the scope for positive outcomes. We have been informed that the Crown Prosecution Service is conducting a review to understand the basis of the decisions not to pursue those child sexual exploitation cases it has dropped.

Are frontline agencies well equipped to identify victims and intervene early?

31. Barnardo’s experience is that frontline agencies vary markedly in their ability to identify victims and intervene at an early stage—however, the overall standard of awareness and response is improving. Comprehensive training in recognizing the signs and responding appropriately is crucial to professionals’ ability to fulfil their responsibilities at all levels. Our recent review of a sample of 31 local authorities6 found that most were delivering multi-agency training or otherwise raising professional awareness of sexual exploitation. However, the local authorities also highlighted a need for external training and external resources for training, as budget austerity limits their scope to adequately resource it.

32. The review also found that the majority were developing or implementing some form of strategic activity intended to improve the response to children who were identified as at risk. Sixteen local authorities, half of the sample, had introduced Local Safeguarding Children Board sub-groups to address child sexual exploitation—10 had been formed within the last 18 months. Fourteen local authorities either had strategies on child sexual exploitation (11 councils) or were developing a strategy (three councils). Six of the 11 local authorities who had strategies already in place were in the process of updating them, or had updated them since 2011. Four had strategies spanning more than one local authority, providing consistency between neighbouring councils or authorities which operated at different levels. Twelve local authorities had developed protocols for responding to young people who may be being sexually exploited.

33. It is difficult for Barnardo’s to extrapolate from this sample (one in five of all England’s local authorities with safeguarding responsibilities) but the independent feedback from our services is that there has been a broad improvement in agencies’ recognition of and action over child sexual exploitation. However, this was improvement from a very low base and—although Barnardo’s is seeing year-on-year increases in referrals—there are still major areas of vulnerability which are under-identified. The rates of male referrals are still very low in many areas, for example, although where Barnardo’s projects have a history of working with male service users we see markedly higher referral rates which implies there is both an un-met demand and an under-recognised need in other areas.

To what extent have LSCBs implemented key aspects of national guidance?

34. Barnardo’s has worked at both a local and a national level to assist Local Safeguarding Children Boards and individual agencies in implementing the safeguarding guidance on child sexual exploitation and the more recent national action plan on tackling this abuse. As part of our national activity, we produced a checklist of actions for local authorities:7

Put in place systems to monitor the number of children at risk of sexual exploitation.

Create a Local Safeguarding Children Board strategy to tackle child sexual exploitation.

Nominate a lead person with responsibility for coordinating a multi-agency response.

Provide access to specialist service provision for children at risk of sexual exploitation.

Review how professionals are trained to spot the signs of sexual exploitation.

35. This checklist was launched in August 2011 and supplemented with regional events to discuss how to design and deliver a strategic response and to manage individual cases. One year on, we contacted all local authorities to ask about their activity in the light of our guidance and the broader implementation of the government’s national action plan. As discussed, 31 of the 152 local authorities responded. All in this self-selecting sample had made some progress in developing local understanding of the abuse and a majority had made progress in how they were responding. Notably, much of the action (creating strategies, providing training, and developing multi-agency sub-groups) had occurred in the last 18 months. It was not clear from the interviews to what extent this timeline corresponds to the government’s emphasis on the issue by publishing the national action plan and to what extent it was influenced by local concerns following major court cases. Either way, the increased importance of the issue to local authorities is shown in the fact that 13 of the 31 LSCBs made child sexual exploitation a key priority for 2013–14.

36. However, although this sample of local authorities had made progress it was only partial. Whilst some local authorities were refining previous strategies, many were starting from a very low base and acknowledged that progress was slow. Funding was identified by some as a barrier, whilst lack of internal expertise and organisational upheaval were also cited as challenges to the development of a strategy.

37. The majority of LSCBs had a child sexual exploitation sub-group, which incorporates representatives from a range of agencies. However, many were less than 18 months old, and still in the process of developing and improving upon the multi-agency strategy. The development of multi-agency responses and partnerships have been more positive, with police widely identified by local authorities as facilitating collaborative responses. Social services were mentioned far less often but were known to be central to the response.

38. In research for the good practice briefing published jointly with the Local Government Association we found that the scale of multi-agency collaboration and strategic working can also contribute to effective responses. Having cross-border partnerships facilitates action over individual abusers or victims who travel from area to area. Having regional or joint-local authority strategies in addition to or in place of individual strategies offers opportunities for identifying wider trends and developing more comprehensive actions, and has in some cases led to new pooled resources for specialist provision or response.

What is the quality of data collection, data sharing and research on the issue?

39. As outlined at the outset, Barnardo’s is not able to provide any data specifically about the incidence or character of “localised grooming”. We know that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency did manage to gather some data on “localised grooming” child victims and on the profile of the abusers, but we are not aware of any other data-gathering exercise on this form of exploitation specifically. Likewise, we are not aware of research into “localised grooming” per se. The picture for data collection, data sharing and research into child sexual exploitation in general is more positive.

40. Barnardo’s collaborates closely with other major organisations working on this issue. We co-host a twice-yearly child sexual exploitation research forum with the National Working Group and the University of Bedfordshire. We assist the National Working Group in gathering and analyzing data on service provision and service users. We co-founded and co-manage the What Works for Us representative group for young people who have been sexually exploited and want to contribute to research and policy on it. We have worked with the Local Government Association to produce a good practice briefing for effective strategic responses to child sexual exploitation.8 Throughout this collaborative work we have found the concept of child sexual exploitation to be well-understood and relevant to the various forms under analysis.

41. In our recent survey of local activity we found that data collection is still very patchy. Only three of the local authorities sampled had developed an overview of the scale and form of the local problem, but only one had yet implemented a data-monitoring system, and it was still in the very initial stages of use. A further five were still considering how to gather data on child sexual exploitation. There were also notable inconsistencies in the type and detail of data collected by local authorities which may make monitoring progress and comparisons more difficult, certainly at a national level. The other three-quarters were not planning to develop a data-gathering system in the near future. In the research for the LGA good practice briefing we did find that some areas have conducted local problem profiles, and have systems to refine the picture as data is collected, but it is clear from our sample and other organisations’ work that data-monitoring is limited.

Barnardo’s References on Child Sexual Exploitation

(2012) Tackling child sexual exploitation: Helping local authorities to develop effective responses.

(2012) Cutting them free: How is the UK progressing in protecting its children from sexual exploitation?

(2011) Cut them free: Local authority checklist on child sexual exploitation.

(2011) Reducing the risk, cutting the cost: An assessment of the potential savings from Barnardo’s interventions for young people who have been sexually exploited.

(2011) Puppet on a string: The urgent need to cut children free from sexual exploitation.

www.barnardos.org.uk/what_we_do/policy_research_unit/research_and_publications/sexual_exploitation_research_resources.htm (Accessed 28 August 2012)

Dr Caroline Paskell
Senior Research and Policy Officer
Strategy Unit

August 2012

1 www.barnardos.org.uk/reducing_the_risk_cutting_the_cost__final_.pdf Accessed 28 August 2012

2 www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2012/1119.html Accessed 28 August 2012

3 Barnardo’s (2012). Review of local authority action on child sexual exploitation. Unpublished briefing

4 Barnardo’s (2012). Review of local authority action on child sexual exploitation. Unpublished briefing

5 www.nationalworkinggroup.org (Accessed 28 August 2012)

6 Barnardo’s (2012). Review of local authority action on child sexual exploitation. Unpublished briefing

7 www.barnardos.org.uk/cutthemfree_labriefing.pdf (Accessed 28 August 2012)

8 www.barnardos.org.uk/tackling_child_sexual_exploitation.pdf Accessed 28 August 2012

Prepared 29th January 2014