The repercussions from child sexual exploitation reverberate into adulthood, says Angie Heal, so adult social care needs to understand the issue and respond effectively
The publication of the Jay report in September 2014 was another watershed moment in child protection. The revelation that over 1,400 children were sexually exploited over a 16-year period in Rotherham shocked the nation and has been the subject of worldwide attention. Rotherham is not an isolated case: Rochdale, Oxford, Derby and Reading have all hit the headlines following prosecutions for child sexual exploitation (CSE). All local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) should now be conducting enquiries to understand the size and nature of CSE locally.
The focus of political, media and public interest has rightly been on the response of children’s social care and LSCBs, in conjunction with their police partners. But now is a time to reflect further about the implications. These children grow up; they reach the age of 18 – or 21 in the case of children who are looked after by local authorities – when they are no longer the responsibility of children’s services. Adult social care and safeguarding adult boards (SABs) need to be aware of child and adult sexual exploitation, understand the issue locally and develop a proactive and effective response, at both a strategic and individual level. Adult services and SABs should learn from the CSE research and policy reports (including a report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the Jay report, and the Casey report into Rotherham Council); findings are transferable to the adult care milieu.
In essence, there are two groups of adult victims. First, those who continue to be abused by perpetrators once they turn 18 or 21, and who should subsequently become the subject of a safeguarding adult enquiry. Second, survivors who are no longer being abused but disclose previous CSE, to which the statutory adult agencies have a duty to respond. Even when the sexual, physical and psychological abuse has stopped, the majority will require some level of care and support as adults because of issues including mental ill health, self-harm, problematic use of illicit drugs or alcohol, interrupted education resulting in no or low paid jobs and economic insecurity.
Parents and siblings may also be traumatised and have suffered abuse from perpetrators. Victims may have a child fathered by a perpetrator, who may or may not be in their care. Whilst the focus has wholly been on white girls, those who are far less likely to report such crimes should not be ignored: these include girls from black and minority ethnic groups, and boys of all ethnic origins.
As children, victims may already be in receipt of services. This may be as a result of having a child protection plan, learning or physical disabilities, mental health problems, being a looked-after child, reporting to the youth offending service or being in secure accommodation, for example. Transition arrangements should be more effective as a result of the Care Act 2014, which should regulate the move from children’s to adults’ services for those who are eligible. Each local area should satisfy itself that it is adequately prepared to respond; the Casey Report expressed significant unease about Rotherham services:
“We have serious concerns about the group of young people during their transition to adulthood: that is, over 18. It was unclear to inspectors what happens to victims of CSE at this point. [Rotherham Council] do not view these young people as victims with ongoing support needs, and instead see their role in terms of a statutory children’s social care responsibility which ends when the children turn 18.
Some interviewees suggested that services were just turned off. Adult services did not have an effective system in place to ensure a smooth and effective transition for this vulnerable group. Indeed, the criteria for receiving adult services mean that the victims may not meet the need for continued support even though they remain vulnerable, and in some cases continue to be sexually exploited.” (p93)
The human consequences of the failings of statutory services to protect children in Rotherham has been monumental. As well as the trauma to the victims and their families, perpetrators have been allowed to continue unabated; the local Asian community and the people in Rotherham in general have been stigmatised and devastated by what has happened; the reputations of Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police have been savaged; workers and officers demoralised. The financial costs of failing to proactively address CSE are also huge, with class action being taken by survivors.
No one should underestimate the ordeal victims have undergone, nor the challenges they face in recovery. The support of all relevant adult services, therefore, is vital in order to promote their well-being and prevent, reduce or delay the onset of further needs.
Angie Heal is a director of Policy Partners Project. As a former employee of South Yorkshire Police, she wrote reports in relation to child sexual exploitation. As a result she was a witness in the Jay and Casey inquiries, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, and will also be a witness in the Independent Police Complaints Commission and National Crime Agency investigations into police office misconduct.