YouGov Survey: Are Parents in the Picture?

A study of professional and parental perspectives of child sexual exploitation

Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace) in partnership with Virtual College’s Safeguarding Children e-Academy commissioned two YouGov surveys in September and October 2013 consisting of 750 parents and 945 professionals made up of 510 teachers, 209 police officers and 226 social workers.

The aim of the surveys was to assess parental and professional understanding, experience, opinions and knowledge of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in England, with a particular focus on the role of parents and the impact of child sexual exploitation on families.  The findings provided new and significant insight, information and evidence on safeguarding children from sexual exploitation.

Download a copy of the full report: Are parents in the picture? Professional and parental perspectives of child sexual exploitation [PDF 4.0MB].

Results at a glance

  • An increasingly positive picture of confident professionals and organisations now able to respond to child sexual exploitation.  This shows the significant progress of the last two years and reflects the commitment of many organisations to tackle this terrible crime.
  • Parents have fallen into a safeguarding black-hole, with statutory agencies side-lining their role in preventing CSE.  For children to be protected from sexual exploitation these surveys evidence that parents need to be brought out of the safeguarding shadows and into the centre of the prevention picture.
  • Complex and at times contradicting opinions towards families affected by child sexual exploitation.  Once a perpetrator commits a crime against a child, their parents are no longer ‘forgotten safeguarders’ but ‘failed carers’.
  • Parents are struggling with identifying virtual risk and how much virtual privacy they should be giving their young adolescent children.
  • Parents and professionals are consistent in their view that primary and secondary schools should be educating about CSE. A majority of teachers, police and social workers think that currently schools do not do enough to educate parents about CSE.
  • Affected parents are often blamed for the exploitation of their child and disempowered by agencies.  Yet on the other hand, they suffer terrible trauma and are acknowledged as key partners in police investigations.  This complex set of results needs further investigation as they may in part explain why affected families can find it difficult to engage with statutory agencies and why independent intermediaries can be beneficial.
  • Educating children in secondary school and providing parental support and information are considered the top ways of preventing cases of CSE by professionals.

Impact & Response

Several MPs have voiced their support of the report and its recommendations for bringing parents into the heart safeguarding children from sexual exploitation.

Nicola Blackwood, MP said:

 ‘While many of the findings of this report show we are making progress on child sexual exploitation, it is worrying that parents and families are still the missing link in our response. Contrary to popular belief, many victims are living at home when their exploitation starts and, in most cases, their families should be their first line of defence. We need to give parents and teachers the resources they need so they can recognise the warning signs of abuse. But where police or social services do get involved, parents and families should be included in the process wherever possible.’

Tim Loughton, MP said:

 ‘It is particularly crucial that parents are better educated and better engaged in protecting their own children. The huge attention given to the prolific crimes of celebrities such as Jimmy Savile should not detract from the fact that most CSE happens at the hands of ordinary criminals targeting ordinary children from all sorts of backgrounds and mostly living at home. Schools must redouble their efforts to include parents in the battle against the perpetrators of CSE at an early stage and no one must be under any illusion that this could never happen to their children.’

Ann Coffey MP said:

‘Children from ordinary and loving families can also be vulnerable to being groomed and sexually exploited. Therefore, it is important to listen to the concerns of parents, who are absolutely crucial in fight against child sexual abuse. All too often, in the past, parents have either been ignored, or worst still, they have been blamed. This leaves the child even more vulnerable to the exploiters. Parent’s concerns should never be dismissed or downplayed and they need to be provided with better information about the warning signs of sexual abuse.

 Gill Gibbons, CEO of Pace said:

‘It’s good to see that professionals are increasingly confident in their response to child sexual exploitation. But it’s vital that the government listens to them when they tell us that the statutory services need educated parents on board. It’s time to bring parents out of the shadows and into the centre of the picture. We need to build more awareness across all communities, with a stronger statutory focus on working with parents.’

Taking the results forward

We are sure that this evidence will prove invaluable to safeguarding professionals in the identification and prevention of cases of child sexual exploitation.

In response to the survey results, Virtual College and Pace have launched an e-learning package for parents on the signs of child sexual exploitation which is free to access that is designed to equip parents with the information and knowledge to safeguard their children from this abuse.

Follow the latest developments using the hashtag #parentsinthepicture or join us on Twitter and Facebook.