Greater Manchester Bespoke Support Project

One of the core elements of the Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) Support Programme is the delivery of Bespoke Support Projects (BSPs), designed to provide time-limited support to local areas to help them review and develop their strategic approach to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. In autumn 2019, the TCE Support Programme delivered a pilot…

In autumn 2019, the TCE Support Programme delivered a pilot BSP in Greater Manchester (GM) Combined Authority, focused on how data can underpin and inform strategic responses to child exploitation and extra-familial threats. This report reflects on the learning from this pilot project, drawing out transferable learning for other areas.

Local context 

GM Combined Authority is working with the 10 Greater Manchester authorities to develop a consistent approach to child exploitation (conceptualised as Complex Safeguarding) taking into account local context and the different stages of development of complex safeguarding teams in the different local authorities. The arrangements for health and policing in Greater Manchester add additional complexity, with these services being managed and delivered at a GM level, rather than locally.

The pilot data BSP

The pilot was implemented with GM and three of the local authorities, selected by GM to represent different stages of development and maturity of complex safeguarding teams. 

The time-limited pilot data BSP was designed to accelerate and add value to GM’s existing approach to data, creating space to think collaboratively about how this works, how it informs strategic decision-making and how this might be enhanced. The BSP trialled a local area data maturity self-assessment tool, which enabled us to develop a shared understanding of the different starting points and capacity for change in each local area. Data workshops with creators, analysts and users of data explored the implementation of GM’s recently developed Performance Framework, and the ways in which this might be enhanced.

Child exploitation data

Child exploitation can take a number of different forms, including child sexual exploitation (CSE), child criminal exploitation (CCE) and modern slavery. Ensuring that data can be reported against these different types of exploitation is important in order to develop our understanding of similarities and differences between them.

Although not without its challenges, data about patterns of risk and harm relating to CSE are more developed than other forms of child exploitation. Consideration needs to be given as to how far this knowledge translates to other forms of harm and where we may need to be more cautious in our assumptions about risk factors and patterns. 

For data to be used to understand the nature of exploitation, local areas need to look beyond specialist teams working with those children we know are at particular risk of, or experiencing, exploitation. These are only the children we know about. Capturing data about wider patterns of risk and harm (critical to a holistic strategic response) requires a more holistic approach, drawing in data from other local authority provision, partner agencies and the community and voluntary sector. It is also important to ensure that the perspectives of children and young people, and those that support them, are appropriately represented within data sets that inform strategic responses.

Emerging child exploitation threats will not necessarily be captured by routine data collection, and may require dedicated bespoke pieces of analytical work. Having capacity to invest in this supports proactive strategic planning, as new threats emerge.

Extra-familial harm is shaped by the community in which it occurs. This suggests we might look at our data differently, by exploring what it can tell us about where exploitation takes place and, more broadly, what we can say about what it is like to be a young person in this community. This provides important context for understanding patterns of harm and risk, where they occur outside of the family home.

Measuring the quality and impact of services working with child exploitation is challenging. The evidence base does not yet provide us with a clear way of measuring relevant outcomes, or indeed an indication of what outcomes might be most relevant. It is necessary to be adaptable as our understanding grows, and to recognise that there may be differences in what young people, their families and services deem to be positive outcomes – and there may be differences between services’ perspectives.

Developing and implementing a data framework

When developing a data framework, co-production helps secure buy in from those who will contribute to, and use, the data. It helps contributors and users of the data to understand why data is being requested, and how it can be used. It also provides important understanding of available data sources, and the additional work required to integrate these within a framework. 

It is important to recognise that different agencies, and different local areas, record data in different ways, which will impact on their ability to contribute to a standardised data framework. Variable case management systems may be being used, that do not support easy export of the required data. Services may also be gathering data manually, which is time-consuming and could impact the accuracy of data. It is important to understand this context, and to collaboratively explore solutions to this, when trying to enhance the data picture around child exploitation.

Clarity of purpose – and clarity as to what the collected data can and cannot tell us – is important. For example, is it to learn more about the nature of child exploitation in a local area or to measure impact of services? The data required to tell us this, and the agencies who hold this data, will vary according to the questions the data framework is trying to answer.

When a new data framework is being introduced, there can be an understandable anxiety that simple data measurements may be used to judge performance in what is an inherently complex field. Framing the conversation around data to focus on learning and deepening understanding of an issue, instead of judging performance, provides an opportunity to open up different insights and consider what data is required. Reflecting this intended purpose, GM’s Performance Framework has now been re-named as an Intelligence Framework.

Analytic capacity is crucial for making the most out of existing data, and it is important that this is invested in. Local areas may not have access to dedicated child exploitation analytical capacity, but they may have capacity and capability within the local authority corporate team, or health or police analysts that could be mobilised to this end.

Providing opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas and approaches allows for the sharing of promising practices, and the generation of important insights as to how collation and use of data could be progressed, to better inform strategic responses to child exploitation in the future. 

Final reflections

There is no doubt that capturing, interpreting and utilising data about child exploitation, in its various forms, is a complex endeavour, particularly when undertaken across multiple agencies and/or local areas. It means moving beyond routine data collection by statutory services to proactively capture a range of data from a range of sources; that may not neatly dovetail into a coherent narrative given the complexity of the field. Collaborative working and understanding of local context are key, as is an openness to critical appraisal from a variety of diverse perspectives as to how data are gathered and interpreted, what data tells us and what we don’t yet know.

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