Tackling Child Exploitation - National Parents as Partners (NPIES)

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-lead 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 and charities, academics, and legal practitioners.

The event was chaired by Ann Coffey, with opening presentaions from SPACE and Steve Baguley (NWG). Contributions 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 - through highlighting the following key challenges facing CCE parents within a statutory response created for familial child abuse and leaving them undermined, disempowered and manipulated by exploiters through their children - was to propose and gauge interest in a national advisory group to address the issue. 

1) Challenges posed by the validity of child consent and absence of transition services at age 18, triggering case closures assisted by a common view that Exploitation ends on a child's 18th birthday. These factors are translating into major gains for exploiters, with the missing response being a key example post-18 when nothing changes in terms of risk of harm but response is age-dictated. 

2) The current social work model, historically set up to respond to familial child abuse, catastrophically fails to capture risks, threats and harm to children (through rewiring of minds and insidious grooming and coercion) by exploiters outside the home and to adequately identify and grasp the concerns of parents who are protective factors in their children's exploitation.

A constant theme is that of parents' legitimate and rapidly escalating concerns not being heard by professionals, and the absence of any contextual safeguarding responses.

This is triggering heightened parental safety concerns and frustration, leading to conflict with safeguarders which sees parents labelled 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 their exploited children, and consequentially exacerbate potential criminal, violent and sexual harm.

It is a sad reality that the vast majority of at-risk children coming to the attention of services are in the care system, lacking protective parental eyes alert to their safety needs or statutory failings, or are children of unsupportive or unprotective parents for any number of reasons. 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 protective parents.

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 inadvertently but directly benefit exploiters by enabling or accelerating manipulation over developing and easily influenced minds, leading to devastating child outcomes as well as family breakdown, trauma and harm. 

A key obstacle is the view that the voice of the child must be captured in all proceedings. However within the CCE context this is hugely problematic as frequently it is the voice of the groomer coming through the child.

These challenges were robustly echoed by attendees 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 parents 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 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.