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 NWG. Over 50 national key partners were invited, including leads from Home Office, NCA, Police, OFSTED, FCAMSHS, Office of the Children's Commissioner, Local Authorities, Ambulance Service, key charities, academics, and legal professionals.
The event was chaired by Ann Coffey MP, with opening contributions from SPACE and NWG. Key presentations were heard 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 the challenges of a) consent and transition of young people aged between 16 and 18 (as well as exploitation handling once 18) which plays into manipulation by groomers, and b) the challenges and dangers around the current social work model which has historically been set up to respond to familial child abuse and exploitation. This 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 cases.
A constantly emerging theme is that of parents' legitimate concerns not being heard by professionals. Parents are Instead being viewed as 'problematic, demanding, controlling, or over-involved' in their children's cases because they rightly and responsibly seek to challenge poor safeguarding responses - 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 parents who are protective factors are not commonly encountered by professionals. It is also a reality that many exploited children are in the care system with no parental eyes alert to professional failures.
Professionals are therefore not accustomed to engaging with or being accountable to protective parents, or their responses and actions (or lack of) being scrutinised or challenged by them. This may be leading to the negative labelling of parents who are responding exactly as they should be doing if their exploited child's case trajectory is being driven to the detriment of their safety and well-being.
Of equal concern is the impact of poor responses which are inadvertently but directly benefitting those behind the exploitation of children by enabling or accelerating easier or greater manipulation over young influential minds, leading to extreme misery and trauma within families.
These issues were robustly echoed by all attending organisations and charities working with parents of exploited children, be it CCE or CSE or Radicalisation.
In view of the huge recognition and support to view protective parents as partners and to advance highlighted concerns, a national professional / practitioner-led advisory group (PIES - Parents as Partners in Exploitation Safeguarding) has been confirmed which will commence work to take next steps forward.