The various reports, articles and discussion on the failure to protect vulnerable girls and young women in Rotherham raise many issues which need to be tackled if girls and young women are to be better supported and safeguarded in future. The Jay report was critical of political leadership for failing to engage properly with the communities, but there have also been questions about the extent of ‘moral policing’ from peer groups. Secondly, officialdom tended to concentrate on girls where evidence of significant harm was easy to collect. This led to other girls at an equal level of risk being overlooked as they had no single event associated with them which triggered professional concern. Thirdly, youth and community services for that age group were either too depleted or insufficiently aware of the realities of child sexual exploitation (CSE) to be alert to the signs. Finally, the ‘offer’ to girls from their exploiters and abusers was often significantly more attractive than the ‘offer’ from the ‘State’ – we need to respond much quicker with viable offers of help and support.
When a CSE project works well, like the Kingfisher project in Oxfordshire clearly does, hundreds of vulnerable girls can be identified and supported over a period of two to three years by a multi-agency team which has learnt how to connect with vulnerable girls and young women, to build their confidence and to help some get out of disastrous situations.
We are building up the Cafcass knowledge base about child sexual exploitation so that our practitioners are able to use techniques such as ‘jigsaw identification’ to piece together apparently disconnected items of evidence about a potential vulnerability. We remain worried about the reduced number of referrals to local authorities about child sexual abuse in the home. While there is some overlap between sexual abuse at home as part of a wider pattern of sexual abuse of that same child by multiple perpetrators, including their parent/s, there are also many children sexually abused at home and nowhere else. We must be careful not to lurch from not identifying any CSE cases to seeing them everywhere, and to equally not to downgrade clear warning signs of sexual abuse at home. We often lurch from one extreme to another in UK public policy and practice, whereas the truth is that child sexual abuse remains a major problem behind closed doors and CSE is a growing problem in many communities with abusers seeking to stay one step ahead of being found out.