On 19 November 2018, with the support of Ann Coffey MP, SPACE hosted a round-table event at the House of Commons in collaboration with co-leads NWG. Over 50 national key partners were invited, including leads from Home Office, NCA, OFSTED, Health, Police, Local Authorities, Office of the Children's Commissioner, key charities, academics, and legal practitioners.
The event was chaired by Ann Coffey MP, with opening contributions from SPACE, and NWG. Key presentations were invited from Missing People, The Children's Society, PACE, Contextual Safeguarding Network, Research in Practice and Greater Manchester Complex Safeguarding, followed by group discussion.
The purpose of the event was to highlight and gain support to address key challenges in the professional response which were leaving parents undermined, disempowered and manipulated by those grooming their exploited children:
1) Consent and transition arrangements of young people aged between 16 and 18, as well as poor exploitation handling once 18, which severely plays into manipulation and advantage gained by groomers;
2) Pitfalls and risks around the current social work model which was historically set up to respond to familial child abuse or exploitation. This traditional model is failing to capture threats to children outside the home, by groomers through exploitation, manipulation and coercion, and to adequately understand the concerns of parents who are protective factors in their children's exploitation. A constantly emerging theme is that of parents' legitimate and rapidly increasing concerns not being heard by professionals. Parents are instead being viewed as difficult, uncooperative, challenging, non-engaging, non-compliant, problematic, demanding, controlling, or over-involved in their children's cases because they rightly and responsibly seek to challenge poor safeguarding responses which fail to grasp the significant risks facing exploited children, and consequentially exacerbate potential criminal, violent and sexual harm towards them. It is a sad reality that huge numbers of exploited children coming to the attention of services are in the care system, with no parental eyes alert to statutory failures, or are children of parents who are unsupportive or unprotective. Parents who are protective factors are not commonly encountered and services therefore unaccustomed to engaging with or being accountable to such parents, or their responses and actions (or lack of) being scrutinised or challenged by them. This is one of the key factors leading to the negative labelling of parents who are responding exactly as they should if their exploited child's trajectory is being driven to the detriment of their safety and well-being. Of equal concern is the impact of poor responses which is inadvertently but directly benefitting those exploiting children by enabling or accelerating easier or greater manipulation over young influential minds, leading to extreme misery, fractures and trauma within families. One such response is the view that the voice of the child needs to be heard in all proceedings; this in the CCE context is hugely problematic as frequently it is the voice of the groomer coming through the child.
These challenges were robustly echoed by all those in attendance working directly with parents of CCE and CSE victims. In view of the huge recognition and support to view protective parents as partners and to advance highlighted concerns, a national advisory group (named NPIES - National Parents as Partners in Exploitation Safeguarding), was set up in December 2018 to take next steps forward through quarterly meetings in Westminster.
As part of NPIES, a ground-breaking national conference was hosted in Birmingham by SPACE and NWG to illustrate parental challenges and struggles in the absence of an effective national strategy, and the current landscape which does not view them as safeguarding partners. The conference titled ‘County Lines Through Parents' Lens’ shared hard-hitting accounts from four affected parents from diverse backgrounds and areas of the UK, as well as expert presentations from FCAMHS (Dr R.Farooq), Dez Holmes (Research in Practice, Dr Carlene Firmin (Contextual Safeguarding Network), Nicholas Marsh (CSA Centre, Josie Allan and Jane Hunter (Missing People) and Lucy Dacey (The Children’s Society).
NPIES Key Lines of Enquiry have also been agreed and developed.
NPIES has continued to increase in membership in its first year with over 60 members. It welcomes additional Police and Local Authority leads who are strong advocates for parents as partners in child exploitation. Please contact us if you are interested in further information or becoming a member.