March 24, 2023 Research and Evidence Launching multi-agency Practice Principles for responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm PublicationBy Anna Racher Casting our minds back, the start of the Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) Support Programme in 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. It has been an exceptional few years by anyone’s count, but for us it feels exceptional for other reasons too. For three years we had the privilege of working alongside 84 local areas to understand the challenges they were facing and support their local goals in relation to responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. Bearing witness to both the scale of the challenges, and the commitment in safeguarding partnerships to securing safer lives for children and young people, was a humbling experience. When we were asked by the Department for Education (DfE) to build upon this learning to develop multi-agency Practice Principles for responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm, the responsibility we were holding was not lost on us. We grounded the development of the Principles in a broad consultation exercise (read more here). We know that we have worked hard to listen, and we know we have continuously reflected on how and where what we have heard fits with the published research available on child exploitation and extra-familial harm. But still, on the eve of launch, anxiety creeps in. Have we done enough? Are they what is needed? This apprehension is perhaps not surprising: we have lived and breathed the Principles for the past year – holding in balance both the drive to amplify the strengths and innovation in the sector, whilst not shying away from honest challenge. We have been equally struck by both the expertise and dedication of professionals and the need to hold a mirror up to local partnerships and ask how doing things differently might lead to children and young people being and feeling safer? It feels important to acknowledge that although nuanced and demanding work, the skills needed are often already in the toolboxes of those responding. The Principles remind us of what we already know: that children and young people are not responsible for the harms that they face; that behaviour is often a method of communicating, that families, social networks and social contexts matter, and that structural inequalities amplify harm. That said, children, young people, parents and carers told us that the Practice Principles describe behaviours that are not always how they have experienced professionals. This is a call to action. One thing we are able to lean on to calm our pre-publication nerves is that we have constantly sought out critical friends to offer their wisdom and counsel. We have benefitted from the expertise and generously given time of so many individuals, national agencies and representative bodies from across the sector to offer check and challenge. This collegiate approach has extended to relationships across government, with the Practice Principles benefiting from the collective high support and high challenge from not only the Department for Education, but also from the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Department for Health and Social Care, who all support the Principles. Some colleagues, when seeing the Principles for the first time, commented that they looked very familiar. We certainly hope so. They are based on a review of research, and informed by the expertise of professionals, children, young people, parents and carers from across England; they should look familiar. In the early stages, we sometimes heard an expectation from stakeholders that the Principles ought to provide The Answer. But consultation highlighted repeatedly that child exploitation and extra-familial harm can look different wherever you find them, and that no one set of local arrangements is mirrored by another. Anything that offers ‘the answer’ for one partnership risks being ineffective in another. So the Principles do not provide a perfect answer. The answer, such as it is, only exists in the dogged application of behaviours and approaches already seen across effective partnerships; ways of working that we aspire to but can sometimes feel remote or too big of an ask to manage on our own. The Principles are a compass that orients us back to our collective North Star and reminds us to keep going, course-correcting ourselves, nudging our colleagues and partners gently back towards shared values. Another piece of feedback we heard occasionally when sharing the Principles in draft was that they weren’t uniquely focused on child exploitation and extra-familial harm. Surely, we were asked on one occasion, the same could be said of work with all children and young people? Well yes! The Principles absolutely apply to all children and young people. There is nothing ‘other’ about children and young people facing exploitation and/or harms outside their home. These harms can affect any child or young person and can go unseen. The challenge – or mission – is to ensure that children and young people facing these forms of harm are afforded the same rights to support and protection as their peers. So, with our thanks to all those colleagues who so patiently explored these challenges and responses with us we are reassured we can make the case for the Principles. But, in the final moments before launch, we are asking ourselves the key question: have we made something that is truly useful? Will a Police Community Support Officer be able to draw on them in a conversation with staff at the school gates? Will they help the manager of a substance misuse service support their staff in supervision? Will they help guide relational behaviours within safeguarding partnerships? The Principles are non-statutory guidance, formulated to support human relationships. And with their publication comes a very human question: have we done ok? You can trust that they are evidence-informed (for more detail on the evidence base, see our Research Summary). But is the balance between high support and high challenge in these familiar-looking Principles, which apply to all children and young people, helpful? Have we left things that little bit better than we found them? We very much hope so. We believe so. But you be the judge. The Principles launch today and can be found on the TCE microsite. Read them; apply the Principles to your context; share them with a colleagues and chew them over in your partnership. Our best hope isn’t that they are perfect; it’s that they are useful, and perhaps that you will feel motivated to perfect them according to your local context. The Practice Principles can be found on https://tce.researchinpractice.org.uk/.