Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people

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Disrupting Exploitation through Systems Change

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Nicola Webster works in The Disrupting Exploitation Programme at The Children’s Society. Nicola works with young people who are at risk of exploitation and on systems change work which amplifies the voice of young people to improve the systems young people are in.

Improving practice has been a focus of our systems change priorities within The Disrupting Exploitation Programme, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Violence Reduction Unit. Working in a multi-agency setting to improve systems for young people is a significant part of our day to day work from small systems to larger, more complex systems in line with the Programme’s theory of change and a systemic model of intervention for young people.

One system we have been able to work in, and positively influence, is that of the Community Safety Referral Team (CSRT) meeting in Salford, Greater Manchester.

From their own definition the CSRT is:

“The multi-agency case management group for each Neighbourhood area that supports the Community Safety Partnership and achieves its strategic aims and objectives by proactively managing demand, threat, harm and risk”.

Young people are often referred to the CSRT because they have come to the attention of the police, primarily through ‘anti-social behaviour’.

Over the past year, as part of the CSRT, The Children’s Society have supported changes that have contributed to positive outcomes for young people. The CSRT meeting has become increasingly young person and action focused. The Children’s Society supported this through partnership working with various agencies who attend the meeting. These included education, the Youth Service and Early Help with the aim of to raising awareness and increasing understanding of how to recognise, record and respond to exploitation in the area. This is now reflected in how the meeting responds to young people, through consideration of exploitation of young people who are referred, and discussions of how to contextually safeguard young people in the area. The range of support services that attend the meeting has grown, and they work together productively to offer support.

The positive changes that have happened over the past year include:

  • Improved use of language in recording regarding exploitation. There is now a greater awareness of victim blaming language such as ‘putting themselves at risk’, and ‘making choices’ and the effect that can have on the response a young person receives from services.
  • A focus on contextual safeguarding issues
  • Cohesive multi agency working amongst the services that attend the meeting.

What happens during the meeting?

During the meeting:

  • Police will share information of the event that has brought that young person to their attention.
  • Their school will share what they know about the young person and outline any concerns.
  • Early help or social care will share information if they are involved with the family or young person.
  • Then, with this information, a discussion takes place around how collaboratively we can support this young person and discuss what wider information anyone may have from the community and their peers.
  • Actions are then agreed with partners in how to best support this young person to prevent further issues in the community and ensure their wider needs are met. This could be through referrals for support from early help, social care or complex safeguarding. Another example of this is the youth service offering individual/group sessions and increasing their detached workers presence to offer support to young people.

As the discussion takes place with police, housing, education, social care, youth service, education and community services a contextual plan can be made looking at all aspects of the young person’s life and the systems they are a part of – a truly holistic response is possible.

The meeting is chaired each month by Vinny Nash (Neighbourhood Manager) and he described his role as “Neighbourhood Manager for the west of the City. I work across partners to ensure that combined resources are targeted appropriately. To assist individuals, groups and area projects.” Vinny Nash believes that the meeting has positively changed over the past year saying of the meeting “It feels more inclusive across partners. Safeguarding and understanding of complex needs has increased” and further contends that the CSRT has a positive impact on the local community, “I think it proactively manages issues and individuals to ensure in most cases that they do not reach the heightened levels of concern that can reflect negatively on an area.”

Strengths and challenges

Disrupting exploitation

Source: Drawn from strengths and challenges identified by Vinny Nash

As with all multi-agency working there are many strengths but there are also challenges. Having a group of agencies all together to share information, ideas and support is really helpful to get a bigger picture of what is happening in the local community. I’ve noticed an increased discussion of the possible exploitation of young people, where previously the discussion would have focussed on criminality.

The Disrupting Exploitation team in Greater Manchester has impacted the meeting by helping to make it more strength focussed for the young people who are discussed. The narrative when describing young people and their presenting behaviour has changed. Now multi-agency partners are looking at the positives surrounding the young people and the support systems that are already in place. When a young person is discussed there is more talk about how to support the young person rather than going over the negative incident that has taken place. The Children’s Society have had further impact on the meeting by advocating for young people and exploring possible exploitation when discussing referrals where a criminal act has taken place. This impact was influenced heavily by the work the team did outside of the meeting with individuals from various organisations who attend; by providing consultations, building partnerships and raising awareness of exploitation and contextual safeguarding through training. The relationships built have influenced how exploitation is understood, and the various methods of support that could be offered for each young person, subsequently changing the decisions made and outcomes of the meetings.

What we did and what we’ve learnt

This way of working is subtle. It takes time to build relationships and change people’s way of working, their perceptions and approaches. Our ways of undertaking this have included:

Our approach:

  • Going into the local area and working to understand the existing systems that surround the young people, for example, the youth justice system and education system, we are supporting and how they work.
  • Building partnerships with trusted local services/people. They invited us in to many rooms, many conversations that we may not have been invited to without their backing. For us the relationships with the Integrated Youth Service and Early Help Schools Coordinator in the area were pivotal. Working with these key influencers and having their informal endorsement and support, has helped us gain more traction with wider partnerships.
  • Following up with agencies who brought exploitation concerns to the meeting. Whether exploitation was explicitly mentioned or just implied, we created a space for them to map problems and create a plan to address those concerns.

What the approach has resulted in:

  • A new strand of support in terms of exploitation to the CSRT being created and embedded.
  • Consultations being offered for individuals and organisations both inside and outside of the meeting with regard to their exploitation/contextual safeguarding concerns.
  • Effective partnerships being built to progress joint work on the issues that come up in the meetings, to be developed outside of the meeting - to create positive change.
  • The voice of young people being brought in to the meeting

What we have learnt:

  • There’s no room for heroes in systems change, it is complex and a team effort. What may seem to be a ‘small change’ can have a significant influence on systems/culture. Everyone has their part to play both ‘big and small’.
  • When working on systems change projects it is a privilege and advantage to be allowed access to a local community of partners and services. This is invaluable as it allows us to truly scope problems and to have the opportunity to build the trust of partners to test new ideas.
  • It takes time and effort to build that trust. It is not always easy to come in as an outsider to a community and for agencies to feel comfortable talking openly about the problems they are facing on more than just a surface level.
  • Young people know the issues in their area, sometimes more so than professionals. Engaging with young people to understand these concerns and feeding that back to partners/community meetings is key in supporting to create positive outcomes for young people.

Vinny believes that the Disrupting Exploitation team has:

“Added another option strand of support to the CSRT. [The Disrupting Exploitation team] often has success where other agencies have encountered difficulties. [The team have] bought into the process and have a range of partners at a local level that they can call upon to build up a bigger picture of the issues and individuals.”

How we integrated a Contextual Safeguarding approach – a case study

Contextual Safeguarding has become a significant consideration in the CSRT and has impacted plans for the local community to improve the lives of young people. An example of this being the issue of anti-social behaviour in the local shopping centre. The police were trying to disperse the young people but this wasn’t working and the issue continued. Through discussions at the CSRT it was discussed that the shopping centre was one of the only places for young people to go when the weather was bad and it was dark outside. We explored how to keep these young people safe at these times. A group of agencies came together to bid for funding to create a youth club in one of the empty units at the shopping centre to provide a safe space for young people to come and use, and to receive support if needed. The funding bid was successful and this will open in 2021. This project came to fruition because of the CSRT looking at the anti-social behaviour contextually and having agencies gathered who can work together on the problem. Rather than looking at just punishing the young people involved in anti-social behaviour, considering the issues from a contextual perspective gave the opportunity to find a way to provide a safe space that young people could go to, whilst at the same time seeking to reduce anti-social behaviour.

This example is representative of how the CSRT meeting as a whole now operate, as the meetings are a place where problems are looked at contextually with the aims of finding the best plan for the young person and their community.

Posted: 12 Aug 2021

Author: Lauren Wroe

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