Learning and Reflections, Programme Blogs

Developing Practice Principles for professionals responding to child exploitation and extra- familial harm: reflections on the consultation process

Publication
Drawing of the 8 Emerging Practice Principles.

I joined the TCE Programme in 2022 directly from my role as a Specialist Safeguarding Lead for a London borough, where I held responsibility for responses to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. I understand the challenges many professionals face in trying to respond to these forms of harm: the difficulties in supporting families in a system not specifically designed to meet their needs in this context; the anxiety and uncertainty professionals carry; and the challenges of multi-agency working when resources are so constrained. I often wondered what else could I be doing? But I also understood that change needs more than one person, one organisation, or one partner.  

A strong response to these types of harms requires a collaborative and aligned partnership working across agencies, communities, families, and with children and young people. I was drawn to the TCE Programme because of just that: in developing Practice Principles for responding to child exploitation and / or extra-familial harm, TCE was consulting with professionals from across the sector as well as with children, young people, parents, carers and communities to try to collectively understand the experiences and challenges being faced; to hear from those of us who have been working to find solutions on the ground and to collectively identify levers for change.   

When I joined the Programme, the team were in the middle of their first consultation round (see this blog). We spoke with multi-agency professionals across the sector, including police, health (including mental health), education, children’s services, charity and voluntary agencies, and colleagues from across government, sharing early ideas based on the first three years of TCE delivery as well as a rapid research scoping undertaken by our consortium colleagues from the University of Bedfordshire’s Safer Young Lives Research Centre. In October 2022, we held a second round of consultation events with professionals, where we shared the draft Practice Principles to ‘check and challenge’ that they reflected what we had heard. I am incredibly proud that we facilitated 83 consultation events across all nine regions in England, at which we spoke with upwards of 750 professionals from across the sector and at every level of those supporting children, young people, and families – from those in direct support and operational management, to senior colleagues in strategic and policy-making roles. 

The wider TCE team and I were inspired to hear the many accounts from professionals who are already working in a way that reflects the Practice Principles, and we appreciate all those who contributed their time, expertise, and insights to shape the Practice Principles.  

‘We have brought about cultural change within [our police organisation], as to how the officers view children and young people and have moved from an arrest focused outcome to a safeguarding outcome and seeing children as potential victims as well as a trauma informed approach. This in my view requires significant senior leadership buy-in as well as persistent multi-professional working with embedded staff in different organisations to build the cross learning and experiences’. (Participant) 

Throughout the consultation, so much chimed with my own experiences of trying to navigate the complexities of these types of harm, and often not knowing what next step to take. Speaking with other professionals across the sector I was filled with hope; hearing about the courageous and creative actions many local areas and organisations were taking. What really resonated was the consistent message of the importance of strong multi-agency working in providing an effective response to child exploitation and harm outside the home. By being aimed at all professionals, I believe that the Practice Principles have the potential to strengthen and deepen partnership working through a shared approach.  

I know I speak for colleagues across the TCE programme when I say we are particularly grateful to the over 200 children and young people (aged between 10 to 27 years old) and around 40 parents and carers who so generously gave their time to share their experiences and wisdom. In consultation sessions led by our consortium partner The Children’s Society, they shared their views, often drawing on their own experiences, about what is important when accessing support and working with professionals. From them, we heard over and again about the crucial importance of being listened to without feeling judged or blamed, having a voice in decisions being made, and the need to build trust with those working to support them. These contributions have been invaluable to the development of the Practice Principles. 

‘A lot of people give up on me really easily because they don’t see that I’m engaging, or they don’t think I’m trying or something. It’s not that, it’s just I can’t trust them, if that makes sense. They need to show that they’re going to stay a bit before I can offload and open up to them.’ (Child/young person) 

‘I think they would be asking me what I think we could do, if there’s anything I think might help, if there’s any ideas I could suggest. Because I have some very good ideas, but people don’t want to listen. As a parent, whether my son is in my custody or not, no one knows my son better than me.’  (Parent/carer) 

In the final stages of consultation, we heard across agencies and organisations that the eight interconnected, interrelated, behaviours the Practice Principles articulate felt both important and familiar to them. I am heartened that the final Practice Principles will feel familiar to so many. They should feel familiar! They represent what children, young people, parents, carers and professionals shared with us as important and the behaviours that research highlights as best placed to make a difference. But we also heard from children, young people and their families that the responses they experience don’t always reflect these ways of working, and from professionals that it can be hard to build and sustain a truly coherent culture across a partnership. The Practice Principles offer a compass to help partnerships navigate this complex landscape. 

Over this past year we have had the privilege to hear and learn from so many people affected by, and working to respond to, child exploitation and extra-familial harm. I know I will carry this learning with me into all my future roles. In the same way, I hope the Practice Principles honour what we have heard by providing a coherent approach for all professionals with practical tools capable of making a positive difference for children, young people, families, communities, and safeguarding partnerships across England. We are delighted to be preparing to share them with you soon. 

TCE will be launching the final Practice Principles and accompanying resources in early 2023. In March, we will be hosting a series of online regional events where you can hear more about the final Principles and the resources to support professionals. The events will be an important opportunity to reflect on how you can apply the Practice Principles in your work! Click here to see the full schedule of events.  

Topics Covered

Practice Principles

Download the Practice Principles document to explore what this means for professionals, and how to develop your approach to tackling child exploitation.

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