As part of National Safeguarding Week, the CSE Guidance Review took place at Cardiff University. The review had been undertaken in order to ascertain how CSE guidance in conjunction with SERAF was being understood and utilised in practice.
First to speak was former Children’s Commissioner for Wales and current member of the National Independent Safeguarding Board for Wales, Keith Towler. He explained how the National Independent Safeguarding Board was working alongside regional boards and how they were providing advice to ministers regarding safeguarding arrangements. As Safeguarding Week continues, he continued, it is important to explore both where CSE fits into safeguarding as a whole and where the voice of the child is.
Following Mr Towler, Jade Harrison, Children’s CSE Coordinator for Wales spoke about how good practices will continue to ensure children are safe from exploitation. She continued by declaring that a strong message must be sent this National Safeguarding Week, stating that children will be kept from harm.
Ms Harrison concluded that a strong focus on education and awareness is necessary. Working with schools, police, youth workers and other agencies, will continue to protect vulnerable youth from harm and exploitation.
A review of the statutory guidance on safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation began with an introduction from Dr Sophie Hallett. The aim of the research was “to understand how the guidance (including the embedded definition and SERAF) is working in practice, and to identify ways in which it could be improved to ensure that it is fit for purpose for all sectors.” The views of 163 professionals across Wales took part; 58 % in managerial roles and 42% working directly with children and young people.
Following this introduction, Dr Eleanor Staples presented the majority of the findings into the inquiry.
Findings from literature:
First, CSE is a recent term. Prior to 2009, CSE was most commonly known as child prostitution.
Second, the definition of CSE is different in England, N. Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Therefore, there are inconsistencies in how the term is utilised between countries.
Third, there are misconceptions and misunderstandings in CSE throughout policy, practice and in general.
Fourth, in order for CSE to be fully understood, it is important and crucial to recognise it in relation to consent/agency, exchange, and power.
Findings from the qualitative research:
There was a basic knowledge and understanding of CSE, but the way that it was utilised occurred in different ways, leading to concerns about what exactly constitutes CSE as it pertains to practice. Furthermore, it was expressed that the definition was “too wordy,” as well as a concern as to where non-sexual exploitation fit into the picture.
Identification and Assessment:
There was some confusion over the usage of the SERAF tool. There was also strong concern shown on the emphasis placed on the tool itself and its scores, leading to professional judgement being overshadowed by SERAF results. Additionally, it was felt that risks and vulnerabilities in relation to SERAF needed to be updated to reflect changes in knowledge and the ‘evolution’ of CSE, especially as it pertained to online grooming and activities.
Prevention, Intervention and Prosecution:
It was found that multi-agency and multi-sector collaboration was important and particularly emphasised when it pertained to education and youth services. It was also vital to consider both therapeutic input and trauma informed approaches to intervention. Ambiguity in legal recourse was an additional issue that was brought up in conjunction with low numbers of successful CSE prosecution.
Broader concerns and Considerations:
These included the need for standard accountability across Wales, the concern of safety and security of those young people placed ‘out of county,’ and how to involve children, young people and their families appropriately in assessment and strategy without additional risk. The desire to see changes in practice to improve outcomes for children and young people was a central finding.
Dr Hallett presented the overarching conclusions:
Sexual exploitation guidance, its definition and SERAF need to be updated to reflect current knowledge.
Both sexual exploitation guidance and SERAF inform practice and allow for the consistency in how Wales approaches CSE.
The excellent practice in Wales should be built upon and the guidance should become a ‘live’ document which changes and reflects changes in how CSE is propagated and that the document should be readily available to frontline and strategic professionals across Wales.
Following the conclusions, Dr Hallett reported the 26 recommendations that emerged from the study. A selected few are illustrated here, and all of the findings can be accessed (insert link here).
The definition of CSE, SERAF protocol and guidance for Wales needs to be updated to reflect changes in understanding, knowledge and practice since its inception.
Online CSE is a distinctive area of CSE and needs to be explicitly stated. The guidelines should also illustrate the ways in which young people engage in the usage of social media and the Internet as a means to further understand this specific area of CSE.
SERAF should be amended to a dual layered approach that includes both a screening tool and professional judgement in conjunction with key risk factors.