The Relational Safeguarding Model: Best practice in working with families affected by child sexual exploitation
Pace advocates for statutory agencies to adapt their approach when working with families affected by child sexual exploitation (CSE).
Intervening early and adopting a ‘Relational Safeguarding Model’ when working with families (rather than using the standard ‘child protection model’) reduces the CSE risk factors for a child and maximises the ability of statutory agencies and parents to safeguard them.
The Relational Safeguarding Model has been developed out of the latest research and professional experience on the benefits of a family-centred approach for safeguarding children specifically from CSE.
Pace’s report on the model is rooted in best practice and encompasses the rationale behind the model, the benefits of a specialist parents’ support worker, and practical advice.
What is the relational safeguarding model?
It can be defined as:
Professionals work in partnership with parents, facilitating and supporting them, in order to maximise the ability and capacity of statutory agencies’ and families’ to safeguard a child at risk of/being sexually exploited.
The model has been developed to:
- Safeguard children
- Respond to the specific emotional and relational dynamics of the ‘grooming’ of a victim by an external perpetrator and the impact on a family unit
- Increase focus on early intervention and prevention of CSE
- Increase prosecutions of perpetrators
- Improve parent and family engagement with statutory agencies
- Empower parents to provide long term support for the victim
Why is the relational safeguarding model needed?
Successful convictions, effective working practice, surveys and academic research increasingly confirm that working in partnership with parents and carers is crucial for both preventing and responding to CSE.
However, the existing child protection model does not adapt well to the reality of child sexual exploitation (where the risk is, as a rule, external to the family) as it is designed to respond to child abuse within the home through the assessment of parental and home circumstances.
Professionals taking the standard approach risk causing parental disempowerment and disengagement from the CSE safeguarding process. This in turn can exacerbate hostility and loss of the shared focus of all involved to safeguard a child.
The residues of victim-blaming persist, with many professionals continuing to believe that in most cases parents are in part responsible for the exploitation of their child. This issue needs to be confronted and eradicated, as it is taking the blame and focus away from the external perpetrator who is sexually exploiting and abusing a child and assuming the child’s background is the root cause of abuse.
Working with families, keeping families together and helping to rebuild families needs to become an integral part of the statutory response to CSE across the United Kingdom.
All the professionals interviewed noted that by supporting the parents, they could then better protect the child.
What does the relational safeguarding model provide?
- Potential statutory cost savings including reducing the risk of a child going into a secure unit, court cases collapsing due to the failure of child witnesses to attend and family breakdown.
- Cost effective support for parents in order to maintain the emotional, physical and mental resilience of the family while supporting a sexually exploited child.
- The empathy and time to build a relationship with families, which facilitates mutually beneficial engagement with the statutory agencies.
- Independent support to parents to empower them to work in partnership with statutory agencies in protecting a child and prosecuting perpetrators.
- An increase in parental understanding and knowledge of CSE and a reduction in the CSE risk to children and young people.
- A conduit for parents to share information with the police which can support intelligence-led mapping, targeting of perpetrators and prosecutions.
- Knowledge, support and practical intervention to ensure parents and the child or young person attend court as witnesses.
- Long term emotional support and resilience before, during and post the criminal justice process.
Affected parents are unanimous that, without the support offered, they would not have got through their ordeal.