As we mark National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day, I am proud to see the progress our county has made towards better protecting our children and young people from exploitation.
It was only a few years ago that this horrific crime was barely understood, was not reported and was often hidden. For years, victims were treated as troublemakers, nuisances and liars, and as children who were to be blamed for their difficult behaviour. Victims of CSE were let down by those who should have been the very people who supported and believed them.
This time last year, I launched my Protecting Children Pledge for Northamptonshire, which was a commitment to the county and our children and young people as to what action we would take to tackle all forms of abuse and as I write, organisations across our county are delivering excellent work to achieve this.
Northamptonshire is fortunate to have the specialist RISE team, which contains devoted and hard-working staff from across multiple agencies, including police officers (both proactive and investigative), health workers, Safeguarding and Children’s services engagement workers and specialist voluntary sector workers, working to prevent and tackle CSE and providing victims with specialist support.
My Office also launched the specialist victim and witness service Voice: Children and Young People earlier this month that will provide tailored support to young victims of crime, whether or not they decide to report incidents to police.
Many people will have seen the hard-hitting CSE awareness campaign, led by Northamptonshire Police, which has successfully contributed to a 50% increase in reports to the child safeguarding team. It is vital that the public are informed as to how to spot the signs that a child may be being groomed and sexually exploited, and our awareness campaign has enabled us to make positive progress towards this.
Extensive training has also taken place across agencies working with children, while partner agencies are working hard to ensure all individuals are trained and advised on how to spot the signs of CSE, and what to do if they become concerned.
The safeguarding of our children is led by Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board, which was described by the College of Policing in their recent CSE Review as a “significant partner to ensuring that key statutory and voluntary agencies are contributing to the CSE and safeguarding children agenda.” The work of the NSCB is enabling multi-agency discussion and development of key initiatives to tackle CSE in our county.
However, despite such significant progress, we must never become complacent. Protecting our children must never be less than a top priority for each and every organisation and individual working with children and young people. As political agendas move on, leadership changes, and other crimes come to the forefront, there is always the risk that the prioritisation of CSE may fall away.
But our work in this area has only just started. There are still myths to be confronted about who can be a perpetrator or a victim of CSE. It can happen to anyone, and it can be carried out by anyone. We still have some way to go to challenge existing stereotypes.
The support available for victims of CSE is strengthening both in our county and nationally. But there is still work to be done to establish the support that CSE victims need in the long-term. CSE can have a significant impact on victims for the rest of their lives, and we must learn more about how victims can continue to be supported throughout their lives and at any point they may need it.
We must also focus more attention on the abuse of children within families and trusted circles. The Children’s Commissioner recently published research that highlighted that child sexual abuse taking place in the family environment comprises around two-thirds of all child sexual abuse. This is staggering. Each and everyone of us needs to do everything we can to give children a voice in these situations, as they are let down by the people they should trust more than anyone.
With everyone working together and looking out for our most vulnerable, we can beat this horrific crime. I know that Northamptonshire Police and all of our partner organisations remain totally committed to protecting the children of Northamptonshire, not just today on National CSE Awareness Day, but for years to come.