Ann Page, Early Help School Support Advisor, Walsall Council
Having worked with young people in Walsall for many years I knew it was really important to try and improve the awareness about the prevalence and impact of child sexual exploitation in our local community.
Last year I attended a Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace) Awareness Training which was the most productive training session about child sexual exploitation that I have been involved in for many years. Before the training was completed I was already discussing with the other delegates how we could spread the message through our own networks.
I knew getting engagement from local people in a traditional community setting would be a challenge. As a School Support Advisor, I link schools with the Children’s Services, so I knew I could use my relationships with the schools to promote awareness of child sexual exploitation. By taking the training to the schools it would be the most effective way of getting the message out to the widest audience.
To date, I have delivered training to 17 schools, which has resulted in awareness of child sexual exploitation being raised with 520 adults —parents, school staff and governors.
During the sessions, both myself and co-facilitator share real life case scenarios. Some parents have even shared their own experiences of child sexual exploitation, or their knowledge of somebody who has been affected. We have found that the smaller, more intimate groups tend to have attendees who are more likely to share and be interactive and this, in turn, has helped with making the subject matter “real” and relevant to Walsall.
One of the really impactful aspects of the training was breaking the myths about child sexual exploitation and the role the media play in perpetuating these myths around the ethnicity and gender of victims and perpetrators. Sharing our local statistics about the numbers of children at risk, showed our audiences that it is crime that is happening right now, in our area, both to young girls and boys, of all ethnicities.
Delivering the training to parents, school staff and governors has meant the wider community in Walsall have a greater awareness about the forms child sexual exploitation can take and what to watch out for. It was really encouraging to see people coming forward at the end of the training to talk about worrying behaviour, or scenes they had witnessed. Practical advice that we gave about how to gather intelligence means that many more eyes and ears in our community are helping to safeguard children and young people in Walsall.
The evaluation of the training and engagement at the briefings was so positive that schools are now to be supported and trained by Pace to deliver these briefings themselves. The delivery of the Pace message can therefore be sustained in the long term to enable us all to help protect the young people of Walsall.
We are now planning to role out the training to all schools in the Walsall borough. I and a colleague have also now attended additional training, which we will disseminate to our teams, around how best to offer quality, appropriate support to families who have experienced child sexual exploitation.
We have a long way to go but are definitely heading in the right direction.