A newly published government guide on how to disrupt child exploitation in the UK highlights the many problems with our child protection system.
The guidance, which was published on 15th April, offers a summary of the law and policy addressing child exploitation so that frontline workers can make the most of the powers available to them to prevent children from being trafficked and abused.
But the 78 page document, arguably decent for its pit-stop guide on legislative powers tackling exploitation, only serves to outline concerning gaps inside the child protection system and the failure of the law to properly define forms of exploitation.
While the press release says the toolkit is an attempt at safeguarding children from exploitation, most of the measures focus on available actions after a child has gone missing. The toolkit also offers no guidance on how to report or record details of missing children, nor does it encourage local authorities and child welfare bodies to ensure that robust details about these episodes are formally lodged.
As a bare minimum councils should be advised to record as much detail as possible about missing children, particularly why they go missing, where they go, who they go to, or with, what they engage in during their absence and how their initial escape was enabled. This information is crucial to understanding exploitation and stopping it. And all these details should be set down in records which should be made available to the public while maintaining the anonymity of every child involved.
The toolkit highlights another worrying area in child protection – the Child Abduction Warrant Notice (CAWN). These notices are not regulated by legislation or statute and effectively allow the government to threaten a suspect with arrest if they fail to comply with the Notice which can include not communicating with a child, without any tangible evidence.
Researching Reform wrote about similar Notices called C5s last year after finding a Notice online being used by police which revealed that suspects being issued with these leaflets were not told of their rights in relation to signing and agreeing to the documents. A police force slide show we found online about the C5 even calls suspects ‘perpetrators’, a term which should only be used for someone who has been found guilty of a crime. Another concern with these types of Notices includes police powers to monitor a suspect indefinitely.
The guide also explains that there are currently no legal definitions for child sexual exploitation or child criminal exploitation, making it a great deal harder to bring in suspects.
The need to engage with an exploited child’s parents should also be a priority for the child protection sector, instead the toolkit dedicates five small bullet points to parental involvement.
There is no sensitivity in the guide either on how to approach and engage with vulnerable children, which is likely to make any action selected by child protection workers fraught with complications.
The Best Practice section at the bottom of the toolkit is a nice touch, though in reality it doesn’t offer best practice guidelines so much as additional information on various topics covered by the guide.
If you’ve read the guide we’d love to hear what you think.