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Child Exploitation: Untouchable Words?

EXPLOITED, TRAFFICKED AND ABUSED CHILDREN BEING VIEWED AS OFFENDERS, ONLY TO BE EXONERATED OF ALL THEIR PERCEIVED WRONGS, AND EULOGISED WHEN THEY ARE MURDERED...



DURING THE COURSE OF MY CAREER, I HAVE LOST COUNT OF THE NUMBER OF CHILD PRACTICE REVIEWS (FORMALLY KNOWN AS SERIOUS CASE REVIEWS OR SCRS) THAT I HAVE READ. CHILD PRACTICE REVIEWS ARE IN MY ORBIT NOW MORE THAN EVER, GIVEN THE FACT THAT I HAVE RECENTLY COMPLETED MY TRAINING TO BECOME A REPORT AUTHOR.

ONE OF THE MAIN FUNCTIONS OF CHILD PRACTICE REVIEWS IS LEARNING, AND TO USE THAT LEARNING TO PREVENT FURTHER INCIDENTS OF ABUSE AND HARM. SO, IT IS FRUSTRATING TO SEE COMMON THEMES AND CONSISTENT FACTORS WEAVING AS THREADS THROUGHOUT OVERVIEW REPORTS, A FRUSTRATION I KNOW, THAT IS WIDELY SHARED.

THE 2019 TRIENNIAL ANALYSIS OF SERIOUS CASE REVIEWS, (WHICH CHILD PRACTICE REVIEWS WERE KNOWN AT THE TIME OF PUBLICATION), HIGHLIGHTED NEGLECT AS A CONSISTENT MAJOR FACTOR IN THE LIVES OF CHILDREN WHO ARE HARMED OR LOSE THEIR LIVES AS A RESULT OF MALTREATMENT, OTHER COMMON THEMES INCLUDED SYSTEM CHALLENGES AND GAPS IN MULTI-AGENCY WORKING, ALONGSIDE THE ABSENCE OF THE “VOICE OF THE CHILD”.




SIMILARLY, COMMON THEMES ARE ALSO TO BE FOUND IN THE REVIEWS RELATING TO CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE WHO ARE HARMED OF KILLED AS THE RESULT OF EXPLOITATION. OUT OF EDUCATION, ADDITIONAL NEEDS AND VULNERABILITIES WHICH ARE EITHER UNIDENTIFIED OR NOT VIEWED AS RISK INDICTORS. BEHAVIOUR WHICH IS VIEWED AS “CHALLENGING” AND NOT VIEWED THROUGH A TRAUMA INFORMED LENS. INADEQUATE ASSESSMENTS OF EXTRA-FAMILIAL RISK. EXPLOITED, TRAFFICKED AND ABUSED CHILDREN BEING VIEWED AS OFFENDERS, ONLY TO BE EXONERATED OF ALL THEIR PERCEIVED WRONGS, AND EULOGISED WHEN THEY ARE MURDERED OR, IN THE CASE OF JACOB, END THEIR OWN LIVES (INTENTIONALLY OR UNINTENTIONALLY), AS DEATH SEEMS THE ONLY FREEDOM FROM A WORLD IN WHICH THEY FEEL TRAPPED AND UNABLE TO ESCAPE.

JACOB WAS DESCRIBED AND REMEMBERED AS “A JOKER”; A CHEEKY, DETERMINED AND FRIENDLY CHILD, WHO TOOK PRIDE IN HIS APPEARANCE”. BUT JACOB, LIKE ANOTHER ESTIMATED 50,000 CHILDREN THROUGHOUT THE UK, WAS, IN THE SAME VEIN, ALSO A VULNERABLE, EXPLOITED AND TERRIFIED CHILD. AT JUST 16 YEARS OLD, HE WAS FOUND DEAD IN HIS BEDROOM. HIS LIGHT AND POTENTIAL EXTINGUISHED FOREVER.

IN THE TWO YEARS PRIOR TO HIS DEATH, JACOB HAD BEEN CAUGHT UP IN A CYCLE OF CRIMINAL EXPLOITATION AND COUNTY LINES ACTIVITY. HE WAS ON THE RADAR. THE SIGNS WERE MULTIPLE AND EXPLICIT. HE HAD BEEN OUT OF EDUCATION FOR JUST SHY OF TWO YEARS. HEARTBREAKINGLY, ONE OF JACOB’S ASPIRATIONS IN LIFE WAS TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL, AND HE HAD EVEN CONTEMPLATED BUYING HIMSELF A SCHOOL UNIFORM AND WALKING INTO SCHOOL JUST TO FEEL LIKE OTHERS HIS AGE.

HE WAS WELL KNOWN LOCALLY TO THE POLICE, BUT ALSO KNOWN TO OTHER FORCE AREAS, INCLUDING LONDON, DERBYSHIRE, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, AND NORTHUMBRIA. JACOB HAD BEEN OBSERVED TO BE SELLING DRUGS IN THE COMMUNITY, HAD IN HIS POSSESSION AT LEAST THREE MOBILE PHONES, AND LARGE QUANTITIES OF CASH. HE HAD RECEIVED SIGNIFICANT INJURIES DURING THAT TWO YEARS, INCLUDING A SERIOUS LACERATION TO HIS THUMB AND A SLASH WOUND TO HIS CHEEK. IF THERE WAS EVER A PERFECT ILLUSTRATION OF THE SIGNS AND INDICATORS OF A CRIMINALLY EXPLOITED CHILD, JACOB WAS IT.


WE HAVE ITEMS IN OUR TOOL KIT, WEAPONS IN OUR ARMOURY TO FIGHT BACK AND RESCUE CHILDREN FROM THE CLUTCHES OF THOSE THAT ABUSE AND EXPLOIT THEM, BUT WE ARE SIMPLY NOT USING THEM. WHY?


YET DESPITE THIS, WHILST IT IS ACKNOWLEDGED THAT PROFESSIONALS TRIED TO HELP HIM, THAT HELP CAME TOO LATE FOR JACOB. A REFERRAL TO THE NATIONAL REFERRAL MECHANISM (NRM) WAS ONLY MADE ONE MONTH PRIOR TO JACOB’S DEATH, INDICATING THAT HIS VICTIM STATUS AND VULNERABILITY WAS NOT RECOGNISED AT THE EARLIEST OPPORTUNITY. THIS IS AN ISSUE NATIONALLY. WE HAVE ITEMS IN OUR TOOL KIT, WEAPONS IN OUR ARMOURY TO FIGHT BACK AND RESCUE CHILDREN FROM THE CLUTCHES OF THOSE THAT ABUSE AND EXPLOIT THEM, BUT WE ARE SIMPLY NOT USING THEM. WHY?

I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE WORLD OF CHILD EXPLOITATION IS ONE MARRED WITH COMPLEXITY. WE HAVE INTELLIGENCE GAPS BOTH LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY WHICH ARE FURTHER EXACERBATED BY THE GAPING ABSENCE OF A NATIONAL STRATEGY AND A CLEAR, DATA SET WHICH GIVES US A DEFINED PICTURE OF THE TRUE EXTENT OF THIS ODEOUS ISSUE.


ORGANISED CRIMINAL GANGS ADAPT THEIR MODELS AND METHODS AT LIGHTNING SPEED, WHICH PRESENTS A REAL CHALLENGE FOR MULTI-AGENCY PARTNERS WHO ARE OFTEN UNABLE TO FLEX AND MATCH THEIR RESPONSE TO RESPOND AT EQUAL PACE. EVEN IN PERIODS OF NATIONAL LOCKDOWN, WHEN WE ASSUMED CHILDREN WERE SAFE IN THEIR OWN HOMES, WE SAW OCGS IDENTIFY OPPORTUNITIES TO EXPLOIT CHILDREN VIA SOCIAL MEDIA. WE SAW OCGS SEIZE OPPORTUNITIES TO EXPLOIT BOREDOM AND ISOLATION FOR THEIR OWN GAIN. OUR CHILDREN, EVEN IN THE SANCTUARY OF THEIR OWN HOMES ARE PREY .IF IT FEELS THAT WE ARE FACING AN UPHILL BATTLE, IT’S BECAUSE WE ARE.

HOWEVER, THE PRACTICE REVIEW REPORT DESCRIBES THE WORLD THAT JACOB LIVED IN AS “AN UNTOUCHABLE WORLD TO MANY WHO TRIED TO HELP AND PROTECT HIM.” I ABSOLUTELY CHALLENGE THIS – AND FEEL THAT DESCRIBING EXPLOITED CHILDREN AS “UNTOUCHABLE” IS A HARMFUL NARRATIVE IF WE CHOSE TO ACCEPT IT. THE WORLDS WE FIND EX


PLOITED CHILDREN IN MAY BE COMPLEX, MAY BE ALIEN TO US, MAY BE COMPLEX. BUT THEY ARE NEVER UNTOUCHABLE.

NIKKI HOLMES

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