Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
Fenestra Serious Case Review into Child Sexual Exploitation in Somerset between 2010 and 2014, 2 November 2017
One of the reasons I try to raise awareness about how to feels to be in need of family support services is because I believe there are serious problems with the culture within many services primarily around the relationship between those who have need of services and those that provide them. When someone needs help, is this because they are ‘incompetent’ or could there be other reasons? What if the only model of providing help is one that looks for and addresses parental incompetence?
A recently published serious case review, Fenestra Serious Case Review into Child Sexual Exploitation involving sexual exploitation of young people in Somerset between 2010 and 2014 looks at some of these issues. In this case review some, but not all, of the children had known vulnerabilities that might have made them more likely to be victims, whilst others did not. Young people with learning disabilities can be particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation because of the nature of their disabilities as this report Unprotected Overprotected explains.
The issue under review by the Serious Case Team could be summarised as follows : – Between 2010 to 2014 nine young people suffered significant harm as a result of persistent sexual, physical and emotional abuse, which resulted in serious mental health problems, including suicide attempts. In addition, two children (C and Q) had several pregnancies, ending in miscarriage and termination, prior to having a child by one of the perpetrators. Parents had raised concerns about what was happening with services on a number of occasions and services missed many opportunities for effective early intervention. The type of CSE suffered by the two children C and Q is an ''inappropriate relationship' model defined as: 'Usually involving one perpetrator who has inappropriate power or control over a young person (physical, emotional or financial). One indicator may be a significant age gap. The young person may believe they are in a loving relationship'. CSE is a particularly difficult form of abuse to investigate and takes painstaking investigation over a prolonged period of time.
Following the end of a criminal trial in November 2016, the following agencies each provided a chronology of professional involvement: · Children’s Social Care, Clinical Commissioning Group for primary care, Police, Education, Local District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Barnardo's
In addition chronologies were supplied by: · Youth Offending Team, Somerset Integrated Domestic Abuse Service (SIDAS), Turning Point
The Case Review Panel found there were many reasons for failure by agencies to intervene including short term single interventions in response to single events rather than looking at patterns over a wider timeframe, organisational difficulties within children's social care, professional shortcomings in individual's practice, extremely poor multi agency information sharing arrangements among providers and agencies. Changes in police organisation also resulted in the Detective Sergeant managing this investigation not being trained in child protection and possibly not having a full understanding of CSE. There was also a lack of police resources in this rural part of Somerset, failures to provide appropriate mental health support and poor understanding of the locations where grooming of children might take place including on-line and in tattoo and piercing salons. In these the main emphasis of the local byelaws and health and safety requirements relate to infection control. There are no requirements relating to safeguarding children. Generally all professionals had little awareness about what constituted child sexual abuse especially when children were aged 14+. These issues and others, including issues around consensual sex and competence are considered carefully and fully.
The index to the report is below. It covers a lot and very helpfully includes a section on learning from children and families.
1.1 Context of serious case review 1.2 Summary 1.3 Aim of this serious case review 1.4 Methodology 1.5 Terminology 1.6 Structure of report
2 APPRAISAL OF PRACTICE 2.1 Introduction 2.2 Prior to First allegation of sexual abuse against either offender (before mid 2010) 2.3 1st allegations involving perpetrators: August - (December 2010) 2.4 Pregnancies, terminations & miscarriages (January - July 2011) 2.5 First police investigation (July - December 2011) 2.6 Birth of babies: (2012) 2.7 Initial operation Fenestra (November 2012 - March 2013) 2.8 Operation Fenestra investigates, obtains evidence and prosecutes perpetrators A and B: (August 2014 - October 2016)
3 LEARNING FROM CHILDREN AND FAMILIES 3.1 Introduction 3.2 Messages on CSE from young people 3.3 Messages from parents of CSE victims
5 ADDITIONAL LEARNING 5.1 Introduction 5.2 Cultural issues 5.3 Relationship and sex education in schools
6 CONCLUSIONS GLOSSARY OF TERMS
These are the observations/findings that have most resonance with me when it comes to Children's Services working with families:-
“The child protection process in England has primarily been designed for familial child abuse/ neglect; in the absence of concerns about abuse or neglect by parents/carers, victims of sexual exploitation are likely to receive an inconsistent response to their safeguarding needs.” and “In cases involving sexual exploitation, there is a pattern of focusing primarily on trying to stop victims having further involvement with perpetrators, and less on the prevention of the abuse in the first place and the disrupting and prosecuting of perpetrators: this means victims often continue to be at continual risk of abuse by the same perpetrators.” and "There is a tendency for practitioners to focus on short term intervention for perceived parenting deficits, without taking sufficient time to listen and hear the parents’ own worries of risks outside the family. This can lead to the provision of insufficient support to the child and family. (Finding 2)"
In particular the reasons for many decisions by social care professionals are not known: the records do not explain this and the practitioners involved at the time are no longer working in Somerset. On reading the report it is clear that family relationships between parents and teenagers in some of the families were under great strain, for example, ''Initially, in September, the focus of intervention was around Child Q's allegation she had been hit by her father, but the CPS decided not to proceed with any prosecution of the father (he claimed self defence) and CSC closed the case, against the wishes of the father, who wanted help.''
There were missed opportunities by services partly because their focus was on :- "the earlier investigation whereby the focus of professional assessment and intervention appears to be around family dynamics, without an adequate understanding of parental concerns and their role in family difficulties.’’
There is a lot more along the same lines :- "In January 2011 CSC closed the case following Child Q stating her relationship with Perpetrator A was over and that he was with someone else. This case closure took place despite the father's continued concerns that they could not cope and requesting his daughter be accommodated. She had become increasingly aggressive towards her parents and was self-harming." and '"The referral in November 2010 by the father was even more worrying, with CSC records mentioning his concerns that Child Q was continuing to have a sexual relationship with perpetrator A, who also has sexual relationships with other girls, carries a knife with him in his car, physically assaults Q, humiliates her and forces her to beg." and "The lack of a disclosure of actual sexual intercourse by the girl or the perpetrator appears to have led to a lack of s.47 enquiries and thorough police investigations. What is also evident during these missed opportunities is the extent of concern of the parents of the 15 year old girl and the limited response to the parents' concerns, despite a miscarriage (possibly her second)."
Problems identified included:- "What can parents do? One victim described feeling anger at her parents removing her IT equipment and reading her messages. Even though she understands why they did this and that it helped her in the long term, she still thinks it was wrong." and "Allied to this over many years has been the discouragement of long term social care intervention in cases that fall below the child protection threshold, with a focus on providing targeted short term intervention as a way of managing resources. However, this does not address the types of cases where there are ongoing problems within families, which appear to be around difficult adolescent behaviour. This needs longer term intervention provided by a consistent worker able to develop a trusting relationship with the adolescent." and "Recent Safeguarding Adult Reviews in the county have also explored the extent to which agencies have responded in a timely and appropriate manner to concerns being raised by family members and carers. One serious case review ('Tom'), published in June 2017, highlighted that 'although (his) family was an obvious source of information….their role with services became one of pleading for engagement and help' and concluded that 'family involvement' be prioritised".
Issues / questions for the Somerset Safeguarding Children’s board to consider include:- "How to effect the cultural change needed for social care practitioners to listen and 'hear' parental concerns about their child's safety external to the family, even if the assessment initially focuses on relationship and parenting problems within the home?" and "Do social care practitioners understand the changing model of social work practice as a result of sexual exploitation and the need to consider factors internal AND external to the family when children are exhibiting significant risk taking behaviour? Parental strength and a protective family may not be enough to keep a child safe." and "The SSCB recognises that some of the agencies involved did not ‘hear’ parents’ views and worries and that the short term nature of agency interventions with the families led to insufficient support for them and a minimisation of their concerns about the risk to the children outside of the home."
Measures taken since 2014 include:- "Assessments now incorporate parental views regarding the risks to their children.Social Work assessments include the voice of the parent and carer and are now subject to case work audits for continued assurance."
In relation to levels of involvement with the review process, this is what the Case Review authors had to say : "The practice of some primary care medical services (as advised by medical indemnity insurers) is contrary to statutory requirements in relation to their involvement in serious case reviews; this risks undermining the ability to learn lessons and improve safeguarding of children in the future. (Finding 8)" and "It is possible that with the increasing involvement of private providers in social care provision (e.g. prisons, care and children's homes), there may be increasing obstacles in the provision of full information to serious case reviews, due to potential conflicts with commercial interests or with advice from insurance companies." and '"There has been a notable lack of involvement of social workers in children's social care in the review process, as few attended the focus groups held to discuss current safeguarding practice, and none of those involved in Operation Fenestra took part in the review.’’
The report is very good and covers a lot of ground (see the index). I have only extracted elements from it. Everyone who has responsibility to/for a child should read it. The recommendations from children and parents about child sexual exploitation are very straightforward and to the point.
Also see How the cultural mindset of child protection might harm child sexual exploitation practice http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2018/04/20/cultural-mindset-child-protection-might-harm-child-sexual-exploitation-practice/