DMSS Research undertakes research, evaluation,
policy analysis and training in the social care sector

Support for parents when their child is sexually exploited

We've just finished an evidence review for the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse: View review here.

The review explores the mismatch that can occur between the perspective of statutory services - which sometimes struggle to relate to parents as partners in safeguarding - and the actual needs of parents for understanding, information and honest, respectful relationships with professionals.

Child protection has traditionally focused on abuse and neglect within the family. From the late 1990s a number of voices, particularly within voluntary organisations, began to identify the sexual exploitation of young people outside the family and to advocate for this to be taken seriously as a concern for services working with children and families.

Although CSE is now accepted as a major safeguarding concern, parents often find services unhelpful, dismissive of their concerns and that they are often excluded from plans and decisions that affect their family. There are three main reasons for this:

  • Approaches to safeguarding have largely been developed with younger children in mind, and the needs of teenagers - and parents of teenagers - are different
  • Responses to safeguarding children have developed on the basis that most abuse occurs within the family, and this has led to a 'default position' of seeing parents more as part of the problem than as partners in protecting their children
  • The development of specialist CSE services has tended to focus on the young person as an individual rather than developing a family-based approach. As a consequence, parents of sexually exploited young people have tended to be overlooked by services or seen as at least partially to blame for their problems

Drawing lessons from the wider literature on parent support, as well as from evaluations of specific CSE projects, the review identifies the key factors in providing more effective, strengths based and 'whole family' approaches when a young person is sexually exploited.

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