Regaining my Power
I’m the mother of a survivor of child criminal exploitation. My son witnessed a violent attack on his friend by a gang (organised crime group) when he was twelve years old and as a result became a target himself. A rival gang offered him protection and that is how he became involved.
Our lives were soon taken over by the criminal gang using and hurting my child.
I was doing all I could to stop my child’s involvement and work with agencies.
The main challenge was to get and keep social services involved – they were constantly trying to end their work with us saying there was nothing they could do. Social services looked lost and this made me feel lost. It felt as if the police were unwilling to take any action and there was an officer who placed a lot of blame on me. I was sharing information and intelligence that put my family at extreme risk, but the agencies didn’t understand the issues or risks to our lives; their actions made us incredibly vulnerable. For instance, the police wouldn’t take action on offences being committed but arranged the installation of letterbox protection to minimise the risks of an arson attack. Police cars were sent to my house when I was passing on evidence. It felt like a big sign above my door that I was in contact with the police. I was terrified of it being noticed, of retaliation. I couldn’t sleep.
It is such a struggle supporting a child through this and the agencies were so blaming towards me and presented me as neglectful. Social care threatened to remove my other children because of the risks posed to my family. It felt like none of the services could offer any real hope and their attitude towards me was often attacking, as if they were just trying to push me further down. In contrast, some of the gang members tried to groom me and tried presented themselves as looking out for my child and me. I started to feel so lost, alone, worn down and as if I no longer had any choices. I started to shut down, close off, give up because I felt so down.
I dread to think what would have happened to my family, if my guardian angel from Pace hadn’t become involved. The first thing my Pace worker said to me was, ‘I’m here for you. This isn’t your fault.’ All the focus was on my child, there was no support for me.
It was life changing to have someone there for me and to start feeling as if there was a way out.
I felt this relief, as if a physical weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It gave me a drive again, to have hope and to get back up and keep pushing. I managed to get back some power, to find the strength to leave everything behind and move away from my area and take us off the grid, not knowing what lay ahead, where I’d live, in order to remove my child from the people controlling him. I know this may not work for everyone, but it worked for my family. My child has managed to rebuild his life.
When my Pace worker started to advocate for me, a lot of professionals who’d witnessed how I’d been ripped down in meetings, started to speak up for me. I wish they’d had the courage to do this before.
For any other parents affected by these issues I’d say, this isn’t your fault – believe in yourself and your child, even if none of the agencies do.
Knowing how our situation could have gone to a very dark place is what made me become involved in Pace’s parent participation. I want to do all I can to help anyone who shares my family’s experience. I’ve spoken at Pace training courses, at conferences, made training videos and I’ve taken part in strategic consultations and discussions with key stakeholders and decision makers.
It feels so empowering to speak to police and social care and politely say ‘this is where you failed me.’
It is such a different place to be from when I was unheard and put down by these same services. I have regained my power. I know when I speak to professionals that they are really listening and I am giving them an understanding of the issues and how parents need real support to help their children through. I love it.
There are so many misconceptions about the abuse of children through involving and forcing them into criminality – that it happens because of the family, or is the fault of the child, or it only happens in cities or London. There is such a need for those involved to really understand the issues and the impact on families – to start learning from their mistakes.
There needs to be a family-centred response and training.
There needs to be better partnerships, for instance between housing, the police and social care. It was a real challenge to get rehoused and I don’t understand why the exploitation of children isn’t taken as seriously as domestic violence. Children can continue to be penalised when they turn their life around because of the information that is shared about them. This is why I am working with Pace – because there are so many families who deserve better.