Learning and Reflections, Programme Blogs, Programme Themes, Reconfiguration of services

Join the conversation on tackling child exploitation


Hear reflections and join the conversation on emerging themes in relation to child exploitation and extra-familial harm with the Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) Support Programme.

Led by Research in Practice, in partnership with The Children’s Society and University of Bedfordshire, the TCE Support Programme aims to support local areas in developing an effective strategic response to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. In particular, it intends to contribute to a cross-cutting understanding of child exploitation and extra-familial harm; one which encourages all of us to approach strategic change from multiple vantage points. 

Over the last 18 months the programme team has been working closely with local partnerships to gather evidence and develop effective responses. Key colleagues from the programme have reflected on some of these emerging themes in relation to child exploitation and extra-familial harm in an open access conversation.

In order to further identify emerging themes, and share ways in which children and young people’s voice can be brought into strategic discussions, the programme team is also welcoming you to participate in online conversations.

Reflections on emerging themes in relation to child exploitation and extra-familial harm

In conversation with… Dez Holmes, Nerys Anthony and Dr Helen Beckett

Listen to reflections on emerging themes in relation to child exploitation and extra-familial harm – in conversation with Dez Holmes, Director of Research in Practice, Dr Helen Beckett, Director of the International Centre at the University of Bedfordshire, and Nerys Anthony, Director of National Operations and Major Programmes for the Children’s Society.

With each question reflecting on issues raised during the programme’s scoping work, these conversations show how rapidly the programme – and the body of insights– has developed. To find out more about any of the issues raised, please explore the TCE Support Programme website.

Reflecting on year one and looking ahead to year two of the TCE Support Programme

High support, high challenge, high expectations

Anna Racher, Partnership Manager, TCE Support Programme

‘Of all the issues and challenges that face local safeguarding partnerships, and their crucial colleagues in education, adult, and community services, we repeatedly hear from local areas that child exploitation currently feels like one of the more high-stakes: driven in no small part by its – often political and emotionally charged – portrayal (and so perception) in society and the media.

A core aim of the TCE Support Programme is to support local areas to cut through so much of the noise that surrounds child exploitation and extra-familial harm to really focus on those actions and priorities that will support real and sustainable strategic change. To realise this aim, the TCE consortium has developed a clear and distinct ethos for the programme that:

  • Is grounded in an underpinning ethos of high support, high challenge, and high expectations of the local areas we work with.
  • Engages local areas as experts in their own context – and so as partners in system learning and systems change, not as passive recipients.
  • Locates responsibility for achieving sustainable change and maximising the impact of support as a shared endeavour.
  • Is explicitly capacity-building in design, identifying levers for change that utilise existing resources and expertise within a partnership.
  • Is committed to sharing learning publicly – including co-produced tools, methods and learning reports from Bespoke Support Projects (BSPs) – using the website as part of propagating a system-wide learning culture.

Collectively, we often refer to this approach as ‘constructive disruption’. We are deliberately and explicitly looking to work with local partnerships to positively challenge the status quo, and avoid ‘doing to’ local areas.

Having spent over a year working with local partnerships in every region in England, walking alongside them; listening to what they are telling us and reflecting on learning from our BSPs it has become increasingly clear that changes aren’t necessarily the ‘big ticket’ items. They are the small but crucial changes that we all know are important; but for some reason often feel harder than, on the surface, they should.

At the end of our first year of delivery we identified four themes, which we wanted to draw out and look at more deeply across the sector:

    1. children and young people’s voice
    2. equalities, diversity and inclusion
    3. horizontal and vertical expansion
    4. structural service integration.

We also added a fifth priority, as the strategic context we are all working within dramatically shifted:

    5. responding to COVID-19-related imperatives.

As a programme team we want to reflect back and explore with colleagues that, although often mentioned, children and young people’s voice and issues relating to equalities, diversity and inclusion have yet to take centre stage in any BSP applications, nor indeed in delivery.

Conversely, directly drawing out issues raised to us by the sector, the significant majority of applications and projects to date have focused on seeking support in either expanding existing child sexual exploitation (CSE) services to respond to child criminal exploitation (CCE) – horizontal expansion – or vertically expanding support for young people beyond current service boundaries and cut-offs (transitional safeguarding). And in grappling with either (or both!) of these issues the structural design of services and referral pathways has also come into sharp relief: how far should outcomes, budgets, services and practice teams be formally integrated?

And in dealing with all of this, strategic leaders have suddenly had to grapple with our fifth focus: what safeguarding looks like in a post-COVID world and what responding to this as a partnership looks like when delivered digitally.

As a programme we think that part of our role in constructively disrupting the current system is to explicitly offer leaders high support, as well as high challenge, in these five areas. In doing so we have high expectations that we can collectively move beyond immediate ‘quick fixes’: that we can stand back, look at the whole and aim for long-term sustainable change that puts young people, their identity and experiences of places, spaces and people at the heart of strategic decision-making. And that in so doing these strategic decisions collectively promote a system with the capability to anticipate and respond directly to their needs, rather than asking young people to fit into how we design services.

We have already begun conversations in relation to children and young people’s voice on Twitter, which marks the start of a priority that will run to the end of the programme in 2022. Similarly over the coming weeks we will be reflecting on how fundamental issues of equality, inclusion and diversity impact on child exploitation, which will help to frame work extending into 2022. We have already completed a piece of action research in relation to what we are seeing in relation to COVID-19; this will be published in the Journal of Children’s Services and a summary of our findings is available on the TCE website. And finally, we have commenced working with seven local partnerships in six projects looking – both individually and collectively – at expanding and integrating child exploitation services.’

Sharing learning

We will increasingly be sharing resources, articles and blogs on these themes over the coming weeks and months. See the start of this with some early reflections on what we have been asking and hearing in relation to young people’s voice over the last few weeks.

Joining the Dots
Our collective knowledge of and understanding of child exploitation is still a developing field. Ideas and examples from across the sector and beyond may help bring a fresh new perspective or unlock a problem. The resources below are part of this rich conversation...
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