As experienced child care practitioners we were appalled by the outcome of the report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over the last 16 years. Not just as childcare practitioners but as parents and humans! Appalled by the actions of those who perpetrated the abuse and appalled by the services that failed to protect the estimated 1400 victims. We have seen too much over the years that would astound anyone and experiences so catastrophic you may wonder how any of these children can muster the resilience to move towards a future with any sense of optimism and confidence.
Whilst it is important not to lose all faith in humanity (the good deeds story never reach the papers to balance out the negative), it is going to be imperative that as a nation we understand that children at risk can be found in every corner of the country. In that sense, Rotherham is one town of many.
What many outside of the social work sector may not know is that in the last year, the number of teenage girls who have been identified as vulnerable to or involved in sexual exploitation has risen dramatically. As a fostering provider, referrals for teenage girls has become the highest demographic we receive from local authorities. At least now the issue is being recognised and more of those at risk identified.
So who are these anonymous children?
Barnardo’s considers children at risk of sexual exploitation to be some of the most vulnerable in our society. Many have experienced abandonment or have suffered from physical or emotional abuse. From our experience of the children we care for, many have incredibly low self-esteem, a yearning for love & acceptance and a seeming inability to recognise risk and keep themselves safe. At present we are seeing a number of girls coming into care and away from the individuals who are exploiting them. The inevitable issue for the fostering sector is the distinct lack of carers who are available and willing to put themselves forward to care for these girls and to support them over a period of time to recognise risks, build their self-esteem and guide them towards a safe and positive future.
A concern remains that despite the vast increase in teenage girls being referred to UK Fostering for reasons of sexual exploitation, there has been no increase in teenage males. Barnado’s research identifies that young males are also at considerable risk of sexual exploitation but are not as yet being recognised in the same way. Are they the next hidden demographic? Read this interesting article here: