I first came became aware that something was happening with my son when he was only 13 years old. He would set his clock to leave the house at night when our family was sleeping; I began locking the doors and taking the keys to bed with me but then found that he was leaving through the windows. I reported to the police that he was missing. However, this only made things worse.
Where I lived there was a really strict code of not speaking to the police. But I didn’t have any other option. Things escalated quickly when I found a large, jagged knife in his bag. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was terrifying. I also found small plastic bags that were used to package drugs. After confronting him about what I found, he turned so aggressive. It felt like he was a different child. I became increasingly concerned as my younger children were present and he was becoming more and more outraged, so I let him take the knife. When he left, I found it and rang the police.
My visits to the police station were horrendous. I was constantly panicking about who might see me – the gang exploiting my son knew who I was, what I looked like. Sometimes, it felt like the police did not understand the risk to my family and I by me going to the station. I would plead with the police to send discreet officers to my house to collect evidence but instead they sent police vans. Why couldn’t they understand?
It even got to the point where one night, I came downstairs to find one of the adults behind my child’s exploitation sitting in my kitchen. I can’t describe how terrifying this was. I’d given up work at this point – I needed to be home all of the time. I was struggling a great deal financially and the whole situation was becoming overwhelming. None of the services that were supposed to help knew what the risk was like for my child and for us as a family too. This was when I was referred to Pace by the social worker.
Pace was the help I so desperately needed. This was the first time I’d been asked where I’d like to meet, where was safe and how I was managing. I felt heard; they listened to my concerns about risks and why we hadn’t been safe previously. My Pace worker and I created a plan together detailing how I could safely share information with the police that didn’t increase the risk to my child, my other children or me. And, crucially, my Pace worker supported me in understanding my son’s changing behaviours. My son was living with the terrifying daily threat of violence and recriminations against him and our family if he didn’t comply with his exploiters. Pace helped me understand how this was making him so angry and volatile at home, which meant I could be there for him, support him and help him see that he was a victim of abuse, not a trusted member of a gang.
My Pace worker and I attended a child protection conference where, due to the risk my child faced, I was advised to move area. I worked with my Pace worker to identify a new area to live. They supported me with the move and in accessing therapeutic support for my children. They also organised for an outreach worker to provide additional support to my son. After nearly 7 months out of school, he began to have introductory days in a new school and is now back full time; accessing counselling and enjoying activities that are appropriate for his age, like football.
We are all undergoing adjustments, but we are safe. With support from my Pace worker, as a family, we have provided key evidence that will help to protect other children and families from the gangs who targeted and exploited my child.
We are recovering.