I’m really pleased with the response I have had on Social Media as well as in direct e-mails, texts and calls, to the publication of the Recommendations in my Report, Living on a Railway Line, that was released just under a fortnight ago.
Support for the research I have undertaken has not just been limited to the UK and I’ve received messages from the USA, Malaysia, Cambodia and Singapore about my Recommendations. Of course, now that my report is published I have the difficult task of working on the Recommendations.
This week has been a busy week in Child Protection and Emergency Medicine.
From an Emergency Medicine and Public Health point of view, Ebola has been the hot topic of the week – we have seen the President of the College of Emergency Medicine promoting further guidance on Ebola.
From a Child Protection point of view the departure of Fiona Woolf from the Independent Inquiry into historic child sexual abuse cannot have escaped the attention of many people and we have also seen the publication of the incredibly important Child Sexual Exploitation report, Real Voices, by Ann Coffey MP.
A number of the things that have been Recommended in Real Voices are things that were contained in or associated with my own Recommendations published on 20 October 2014. I very much hope that there will be opportunities to work collaboratively over the next few weeks and months taking forward the combined Recommendations from Living on a Railway Line and those in Real Voices.
To highlight where our two reports are associated I have taken some of the Recommendations from Real Voices and cross referenced them to the relevant Recommendations or paragraphs contained within my own report, Living on a Railway Line.
Real Voices Recommendation: removal of all references to child prostitution in legislation
Living on a Railway Line Key Recommendation FOUR
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 must be revised to remove the terms ‘child prostitute’ and ‘child prostitution’ and additional clauses should be inserted to better reflect the fact that children who were previously classed as being involved in ‘child prostitution’ are actually victims of serious child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation.
This is also associated with:
Living on a Railway Line Key Recommendation THREE
Section 15(1)(a) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 must be revised to change the number of times contact must be proven to have been made with a child, prior to meeting with that child with the intention of abusing him or her, from two to one. Consideration should also be given to raising the age in relation to sexual exploitation in section 15 from age 16 to age 18 to reflect that it is possible to treat someone in an exploitative manner who is above the age of legal consent to sexual intercourse but still a child aged under 18 years of age.
Real Voices Recommendation: Focus groups should be commissioned with the public about their understanding of the nature of child sexual exploitation
Living on a Railway Line Key Recommendation EIGHT
A research study should be conducted in the UK comparing professionals’ and the public’s views on the acceptability of various events which can occur to and around children and whether or not these are considered abusive. The results of this study should be used to inform organisations and groups working on primary prevention of child maltreatment in the community. To help facilitate achievement of this key recommendation there should be widespread support of The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges Child Sexual Exploitation Working Group recommendation (September 2014) that the Faculty of Public Health should consider how they can encourage their members to work closely with local safeguarding children boards to improve awareness in parents, communities, and schools of indicators of child sexual exploitation [and of other types of abuse] and of available help. This would also include a focus on primary prevention to help build awareness and resilience in children and young people to prevent them being exploited or abused in any way.
Real Voices Recommendations: Police and PCSO Training
Living on a Railway Line Key Recommendation SEVEN
A standardised, compulsory, multi-professional training programme, to complement the inter-collegiate competency levels, should be introduced in the UK for all professionals dealing with children and families. This must include specific training on the potential signs, features and vulnerabilities of children who are at risk of, or who are suffering from, exploitation including sexual exploitation. This coordinated educational programme would reduce inefficiencies of duplication of educational material preparation and would better quality assure the outcome of the educational programme.
Real Voices Recommendations: Talks in schools & compulsory Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) provision
Sections 14.3.4 and 14.3.5 deal with this in my Report in general terms (although Real Voices has been more specific to single out Police Officers in uniform and PSHE):
14.3.4 The Academy Child Sexual Exploitation Working Group recently recommended that the Faculty of Public Health should consider how they can encourage their members to work closely with local safeguarding children boards to improve awareness in parents, communities, and schools of indicators of child sexual exploitation and of available help. This would also include a focus on primary prevention to help build awareness and resilience in children and young people to prevent them being sexually exploited.
14.3.5 Health educators in schools can become a powerful force for a change to empower children to report more cases of child abuse and to facilitate interventions at an earlier stage if child maltreatment were to be added to school curricula on a widespread basis.
Real Voices Recommendations: Community Schemes, Community Engagement, Public Information
Living on a Railway Line Key Recommendation NINE
The UK government should consult with key child protection stakeholders and prepare to launch a pilot Child Abuse Awareness Month as soon as is practicable after the 2015 General Election. This event should be evaluated and replicated in future years if it is found to be successful in either raising awareness of child abuse issues within society or decreasing the incidence of child maltreatment in different communities.
Living on a Railway Line Recommendation THIRTEEN
Organisations working in the community on child abuse prevention programmes should incorporate material relating to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and provide community education about the importance of minimising ACEs as well as recognising when they are present in the community and seeking appropriate community-based or professional assistance.
Living on a Railway Line Recommendation FOURTEEN
A formal Health Needs Assessment (HNA), from a secondary care point of view, should be conducted in a pilot community in the UK in relation to child maltreatment and its prevention. The result of this initial pilot should be used to conduct further HNAs in other regions of the country with the aim of building up a societal evidence base of the health needs of children who have suffered from, or who are at risk of, significant harm so that evidence-based preventative strategies can be appropriately designed and targeted.
Living on a Railway Line Recommendation TWENTY-ONE
The ChildSafe initiative, and other similar schemes, should be promoted … [in] areas where child protection issues are abundant and children are at significant risk of harm from issues such as sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and child labour. A pilot region-specific ChildSafe initiative should be introduced, and evaluated, in the UK to contribute towards better protecting children who might be at risk of exploitation in that particular area.
Real Voices Recommendation: Declaring CSE a priority public health issue
Living on a Railway Line Key Recommendation EIGHT
…[The] Faculty of Public Health should consider how they can encourage their members to work closely with local safeguarding children boards to improve awareness in parents, communities, and schools of indicators of child sexual exploitation [and of other types of abuse] and of available help. This would also include a focus on primary prevention to help build awareness and resilience in children and young people to prevent them being exploited or abused in any way.
Real Voices Recommendation: Joint Commissioning proposal
This can be extrapolated to be loosely related to my proposals surrounding child advocacy:
Living on a Railway Line Key Recommendation TEN
A children’s advocacy centre pilot should be launched in the North West of England with an initial evaluation after 12 months, an interim evaluation after 24 months and a full evaluation after 60 months of operation.
Real Voices Recommendation: CPS being part of CSE multi-agency teams
Living on a Railway Line Recommendation TEN
Child protection peer review meetings with clear terms of reference and involving representatives from the local authority (including, as an essential component, local authority, or Crown Prosecution (as appropriate) legal teams), the police and community health services, should be set up in all health organisations conducting child protection clinical work. Such peer review meetings should actively contribute to the case management of individual cases.
Real Voices Recommendations: Questioning and tone of cross-examination
Living on a Railway Line Recommendation TWENTY-TWO
Judges and lawyers involved in all child abuse cases should be required to undertake mandatory specialist training…
This Real Voices Recommendation is also loosely related to:
Living on a Railway Line Recommendation SIX
Institutions training pre-qualification professionals who may in the future work with vulnerable children and families should ensure that their training courses incorporate the necessary training from the Intercollegiate Document on Safeguarding Children and Young People competencies, with an appropriate competency assessment at the end of the training programme to ensure that the skills and knowledge required have been obtained.
Living on a Railway Line Recommendation SEVEN
Current educational programmes in child maltreatment ought to be formally validated including assessing the impact on the competence of the professional, both pre- and post- training, and, if possible, outcomes for children.
There is one final recommendation in Real Voices, the Coffey Report, that deserves specific mention as it has international implications:
Real Voices Recommendation: Reference to CSE should explicitly include boys and young men
Sections 23.1.17 and 23.1.18 deal with this in my Report:
23.1.17 It is important to recognise that child sexual abuse is not something that solely affects girls nor is it something that does not affect people who do not identify themselves as heterosexual (or who may not identify as having any particular sexuality at present).
23.1.18 Boys and the LGBT community can be forgotten as potential victims of child sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking and this must be remembered.
It is an opportune moment, having re-read these sections of my report and the Recommendation contained within Real Voices to highlight the fantastic work being undertaken by First Step Cambodia – a local NGO launched in 2010 designed to meet the needs of male victims and survivors of sexual abuse and their families, carers, supporters and communities in Cambodia. These needs are met through social work and other activities related to Prevention & Protection, Support, and Advocacy & Education. Their primary goal is to work in partnership with ALL for positive change and ensure that all male survivors are enabled to achieve their potential with freedom and dignity.
There have been two recent articles published by others in relation to First Step Cambodia. In the first article (http://unicefcambodia.blogspot.com/2014/10/what-about-boys-debunking-myths-about.html) some myths are dispelled about sexual violence against children. Here are some of the myths that exist currently and work needs to take place to educate professionals and the community about how wrong they are:
- Boys are invulnerable
- Foreigners and/or homosexuals are primarily responsible for sexual violence
- When it occurs, violence against boys is not a serious problem
It is the comments on the second article, from Alastair Hilton, Technical Advisor at First Step Cambodia, that are really important: (http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/tragic-cycle-abuse). Alastair makes clear in his comments that in relation to children with harmful and abusive sexual behaviours there is a complex set of dynamics and circumstances that lead to this behaviour. He highlights the work that First Step Cambodia have done which has found that although many victims and survivors (male and female) sadly continue to be abused (due to the lack of concern, services and other issues), some may become abusive (in the widest sense – so may become aggressive or also harm themselves) but many – and their experience the majority – become ‘protectors’ of others.
Ensuring that all victims of abuse receive the support that they need and deserve and ensuring that they are portrayed accurately in the media is an important part of the work of everyone dealing with children and families.
The international insights offered by work such as that by First Step Cambodia can be incredibly useful to us here in the UK. Not, for the reasons outlined in the Public Policy Transfer chapter of Living on a Railway Line, because strategies from overseas cannot be automatically transferred unaltered to the UK but simply because having an understanding of what does work and what does not work overseas and the reasons for this, is crucial when we are developing our own policies, strategies, laws and procedures in the UK.
I said at the start that there was one ‘comment’ that I wanted to make and this is in relation to a potential risk that so much resource, time and effort is focussed on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) that other aspects of child abuse either inadvertently or deliberately get minimised. Real Voices recommends prioritisation of funding and whilst I agree that this is entirely appropriate it cannot be to the detriment of funding related to other types of abuse otherwise we may find in a decade that the problem of CSE has decreased only to be replaced by a problem of another form of abuse which we ought to have been preventing, recognising and dealing with alongside CSE.
It will be really important that groups carrying out the Recommendations in Real Voices do not lose sight of the other forms of child abuse that children and young people suffer from and that they make sure these other forms of abuse are not minimised. I don’t say this to, in any way, detract from the Recommendations in Real Voices – I think it actually strengthens them – but it is an important point that I think should not be forgotten.
A lot of work needs to take place now that Living on a Railway Line and Real Voices have been published and I’m looking forward to working as hard as I can to see the Recommendations I have made implemented in the UK and beyond.
I cannot do this alone.
What is required is a united approach and collaboration from a wide range of individuals and organisations who have the expertise and enthusiasm to try and make what are currently simply a list of my own Recommendations, and those in Real Voices, into reality.
Will YOU join in to help?