Emerging Issues
Resource

The hyper-visible and invisible children

Jahnine Davis and Nick Marsh, Listen Up Research


‘Children become the victims or the beneficiaries of adult actions.’

(Cunningham, 2006)

A call to action:

If children are at the mercy of adult actions (Cunningham, 2006), it is appropriate that as professionals, whose role it is to promote the wellbeing of young people, we continually ask ourselves searching and challenging questions. This is particularly important when considering emerging practice in regard to different forms of child exploitation and extra familial harm.

Questions we should be asking ourselves, our organisations and the wider-field of practice include: exploring how confident we are that the services we provide are welcoming, accessible and culturally competent for children and young people from minority backgrounds? And whether individuals and teams routinely discuss anti-discriminatory practice and take action when needs arise? 

Equality, diversity and inclusion should not be considered as a policy that sits on the shelf, introduced to all new starters in the organisation, or packaged as a short e-learning course, quickly becoming an activity ticked and forgotten about. Recognising an individual’s ethnic, religious and cultural origins is not a choice – it is a legal responsibility. Consequently, it needs to be an active feature of our everyday safeguarding practice, as enshrined in legislation (Children Act 1989) and reiterated in guidance (Working Together, 2018).

Equality, diversity and inclusion should be regarded as a core principal of child protection and safeguarding practice and should be deemed as a priority, not an optional extra or as an additional task. To achieve this it is vital that we allocate the time and the resources necessary to better understand the interplay between, race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability, and class in the exploitation of our young people and the services they receive or do not receive (The Children’s Society 2018). 


Reflection Point

Thinking about tackling about service provision:

  • How to does your organisation create a welcoming and accessible service to young people from diverse backgrounds?
  • What performance indicators and measures are in place to track and increase accountability of your organisational reach into diverse communities?

Recognising difference

Being exploited is often a traumatising experience for young people. How individuals express their trauma varies greatly and is partly influenced by psycho-social factors, including experience and societal expectations related to age, gender, ethnicity and class (The Children’s Society 2018). This is an important consideration for practitioners as their interpretation of the young person’s signals of distress ultimately influences the response they receive. It is a common experience for young people to be treated differently based on judgments, assumptions and stereotypes related to their individual or collective identity. This is the lived reality for many young people who are marginalised and often disenfranchised, including Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities and young people from working-class backgrounds.

Studies have shown that young working-class Black people, specifically boys, are disproportionally represented in our prison populations (Lammy, 2017; HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 2019) and whilst in prison, they are also more likely to be physically restrained (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2016). Personal characteristics also play a part in how young people experience education too. There is an abundance of evidence that the UK’s education system treats Black Caribbean and white working-class boys differently than other pupils, and that their educational attainment is significantly lower than their peers (Haque, 2019).  With this in mind, it is essential that we try to understand how preconceived discriminatory ideas and stereotypes directly influence the framing of narratives we form about individual young people and how this influences the outcomes they experience.

Who are we missing?

More generally, our collective professional bias is possibly most apparent when reflecting on the services we offer and who is referred to them. We could reasonably guess that most services provide support to 75-85% of one demographic. The most obvious example would be the fact that services are more likely to be involved in the lives of young people from working class backgrounds, as highlighted by Bernard (2017) in regards to child neglect. It is also likely that the majority of young people open to CSE services are female and from white British backgrounds. While this may not be indicative of professional bias in itself, it is important to remain professionally curious about who is being referred to services and who is not (Beckett and colleagues, 2015; Fox, 2016). 


Reflection Point:

Thinking about tackling about service provision:

  • What data analysis currently takes place in your organisation to understand the demographics of the young people and families referred to your services and does this reflect the communities your organisation services?
  • What are the potential consequences of not understanding the deterministic nature of the services our young people receive (I.E young males from minority ethnic backgrounds disproportionately receiving a crime prevention response)?

We need to ask honest questions about how far we have really come. It is over a decade since Ward and Patel (2006) highlighted the narrow focus of the CSE debate within the UK. They argued for it to be more inclusive and reflective of the experiences of Black and Asian young people, while recognising they are not a homogenous group. Though there has been significant developments in our approach to CSE, recent research by Brown et al., (2017) also highlights several possible contemporary limitations. They emphasise that given the lack of evidence indictors on CSE risk assessment tools could be discriminatory, making it more difficult for marginalised young people (e.g. disability, ethnicity and sexuality) to be identified as ‘at risk’. 

Taking Action

No longer can we accept the deterministic outcomes of our approach, especially when the evidence on the impact of inequality is so overwhelming.  And although it can feel frustrating that there is still a need to raise these issues, it is our responsibility. Now, provides the perfect opportunity to amend this. As services energetically re-evaluate how best to meet the needs of those at risk of exploitation, we can build equality, diversity and inclusion in to our thinking, systems and everyday practice.

We owe it to our young people.  We need to be able to justify and be accountable for the services young people are referred to receive.


Practical considerations

  • Recognise the significance of buy-in at every level, including visible leadership from senior management, to reflect the importance and commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Connect to external support to ensure accountability of service provision. This includes the use of relevant critical friends to support and challenge develop thinking
  • Commit to a culture of equity, which includes a diverse workforce, reflective promotional material and, importantly, an accountable strategy for inclusivity.
  • Critically reflect on processes, systems and tools which may exclude young people who are atypical of our current understanding of and thinking about exploitation.
  • Design a process to gain feedback from diverse group of people and include them in innovations and service design.

Nick Marsh and Jahnine Davis are PhD researchers exploring issues related to child protection and safeguarding. They are also joint directors of Listen Up Research, a community interest company, set up to elevate the voices of marginalised young people in practice,

For more information please contact: Hello@listenupresearch.org


Additional references

Beckett, H., Warrington, C., Ackerley, E. and Allnock, D. (2015) Children’s voices: children and young people’s perspectives on the police’s role in safeguarding: a report for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies. Luton: University of Bedfordshire. Available at: http://uobrep.openrepository.com/uobrep/bitstream/10547/621862/2/childrens-voices-research-report.pdf

Cunningham, H. (2006) The Invention of Childhood. London: Random House.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons/YJB (2019) Children in Custody 2017-18. London: HMIP/YJB.

Ward and Patel (2006) ‘Broadening the Discussion on ‘Sexual Exploitation’: Ethnicity, Sexual Exploitation and Young People’, Child Abuse Review, 15 (5), 341-350.

Fox, C. (2016) It’s not on the radar. Barkingside: Barnardo’s.

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