New research published by Cafcass explores the pre-existing vulnerabilities of victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and the implications for social work practitioners.
The research, produced by Cafcass, illustrates that children with pre-existing vulnerabilities derived from their family lives – for example, those with a history of substance abuse or violence within the family – can be targets of CSE. It is suggested that perpetrators may target vulnerable children as they are less likely to disclose information or be protected by adults.
The report also highlights difficulties derived from the fact that victims may believe they are entering into consensual relationships – describing perpetrators of CSE as 'boyfriends'. This can lead to cases of exploitation being overlooked as authorities may misunderstand the coercive elements of these relationships.
Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas CBE said,"This research highlights the difficulty social workers face in identifying exploitation amidst a number of obscuring factors. Hopefully this study will be built upon and allow us to recognise some of the recurring warning signs – ultimately enabling us to protect more vulnerable children from such an abhorrent crime."
The research also suggests that victims of exploitation may not provide full or accurate accounts of their experiences to the authorities and highlights how descriptions of victims' behaviour such as 'sexually active' can mask the control and power being exercised.
The research into CSE formed one aspect of wider Cafcass research about the profiles of cases involving fatal and serious maltreatment and the risk factors featuring in such cases. Building upon a similar study published last year the report analyses data from 63 Cafcass submissions to Serious Case Reviews since 2009 – including 26 new submissions from the last year – as well as drawing on additional data sourced from Cafcass practitioners in order to provide greater insight into CSE. Following high profile reviews of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and elsewhere, it was decided to inquire into this area in greater depth.
Other key findings of the study, concerning Serious Case Reviews, include:
- Domestic violence was the most common risk factor identified in cases following divorce or separation (private law), whilst physical abuse was the most commonly identified risk factor in care cases (both featuring in 10 out of 13 cases).
- The report also notes that the average age of the mothers (of the children who were the subject of the SCRs in the sample) at the birth of their first child was five years lower than the national average.
- The report emphasises that fatal and serious maltreatment occurs in the context of cases categorised as both low and high risk.
The wider report also discusses the increase in the number of Serious Case Reviews being convened by Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs), particularly in instances where there has not been a child fatality, as well as the increasing variety of models used by LSCBs.
The study can be found in full here: http://www.cafcass.gov.uk/media/224016/learning_from_cafcass_submissions_to_scrs.pdf