Tackling Child Exploitation – Leading With Care, Blurring Boundaries And Holding Complexity, Uncertainty And Curiosity

Tackling child exploitation – leading with care, blurring boundaries and holding complexity, uncertainty and curiosity

Author Anna Racher

We are delighted to be able to share with you the Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) Support Programme’s new website.

The TCE programme is a three year investment that supports local area partnerships to achieve strategic change in relation to all forms of child exploitation including child sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, modern slavery and trafficking, as well as supporting local areas to respond to new and emerging forms of exploitation. It is a Department for Education funded programme designed and delivered by a consortium led by Research in Practice with The Children’s Society and the University of Bedfordshire.

We have been working with local partners for almost a year now: scoping the evidence and listening to views from across the sector about what you are seeing and what is important to you in relation to child exploitation (our second annual sector survey will be with you soon). From these insights, we have been developing, piloting and delivering direct strategic support to local partnerships though a limited number of Bespoke Support Projects.

Based on this learning and delivery we have developed an open access website as a vital part of our programme. It sits at the heart of the change we are trying to support as a way of sharing the evidence and the learning we generate through our Bespoke Support Projects. The site is available to all those addressing the strategic challenges posed by child exploitation. We hope to amplify our own learning by acting as a repository for the sector: collating and framing evidence as well as sharing the resources, tools and learning generated through programme delivery.

As will be familiar to so many of you, we are launching the site in an evolving context. We have a resource developed over months that now needs to serve in a radically altered environment. Young people’s worlds have changed dramatically and so – arguably – have elements of the strategic landscape needed to keep them safe. The TCE programme is focused on supporting ambitious system change. Whilst on one level now might feel like a challenging time to be talking about change and ambition, in our conversations across the sector over the last couple of months we see local partnerships still ambitious to meet system-level challenges.

The potential impact of COVID-19 on young people’s safety and the risks and harms young people face in relation to exploitation are complex and dynamic. We all need to adopt new ways of working: new ways of connecting, engaging and building relationships, both with each other as professionals and with the young people, families and communities we want to be safe. This challenging time has thrown a number of questions into even sharper relief: what are local data revealing – or obscuring - about risk and vulnerability? How do we respond to what we are seeing? How can we strengthen the strategic input of adult services, housing and the night time economy? How do we know whether incidents being reported locally are part of a wider trend? In short: what are we learning now that can support whole-system recovery and resilience?

Despite the TCE site not being intended as a direct response to COVID-19, the approach it embodies and the resources it contains are more relevant than ever – and we hope it looks and feels a little different. It is designed to directly respond to key messages we heard from our initial scoping exercise about what would help: more focus on relationships, fewer silos, and support navigating an area where complexity can feel overwhelming. The site aims to look at things differently with leaders who are able to bring partnerships together, (re)align outcomes and restructure services and budgets in ways that recognise child exploitation extends far beyond being either simply a ‘children’s services’ or ‘safeguarding’ agenda.

To build an effective strategic response to child exploitation, both now and in the future, leaders need to hold space. This involves:

  • leading with care
  • blurring boundaries
  • holding complexity uncertainty and curiosity.

We think these themes are so foundational that we have adopted them as a wider framework for the programme as a whole, and embedded them throughout the microsite as cross cutting resources, as well as trying to embody the themes ourselves in how we have designed the site.

Leading with care

Everything we share is quality assured by our evidence team, but we are not positioning ourselves as ‘experts’. We are part of the same system as you, and so are responsible for generating change with you. We really hope that the tone of the site is engaging and reflective. On the site we share tools, resources and learning from our Bespoke Support Projects alongside the wider evidence base that has shaped the design of the programme overall. Some of the resources will challenge; others will reassure. All should feel like part of a considered, respectful, two-way, strengths-based conversation.

Blurring boundaries

One of the most obvious differences is that resources aren’t ‘filed’ in traditional ways. We haven’t grouped evidence around type of abuse, or professional background. Rather we have created a tag cloud to help us visually collapse artificial boundaries. Evidence around exploitation is inter-linked and overlapping and we want to acknowledge and reflect this complexity, whilst also making it easy for you to find what you need. The design is simple: resources are a single click away, but by ‘mapping’ rather than ‘categorising’ content into static files we are trying to reinforce curiosity and reflection rather than quick fixes and deceptively neat or linear solutions. The same resources will appear in different searches as we acknowledge the plurality of perspectives to any single issue. You will also get resources returned in searches that you didn’t directly search for. These are to help ‘join the dots’ between issues, between professions and even between types of evidence and invite a richer conversation.

Holding complexity, uncertainty and curiosity

In exploring the resources available, you will also see the site isn’t designed to be a ‘finished product’ – we will keep populating the site over the next couple of years, building on the resources we have from our first call for practice.  Evidence around child exploitation is constantly evolving and new issues and responses emerge. As new resources become available we will add them and there is an ‘emerging issues’ section that gives us a space to explore what we are seeing at an early stage and from a slightly different perspective to the rest of the site. This approach means you will find gaps as you look around – this is deliberate. We are clear that there are topics and approaches that we don’t know enough about yet. If you know of research or evidence that would help fill a gap, please let us know.  And if there is an area where you need to know more, please tell us. 

These ‘joining the dots’ themes reflect the complexity of the landscape, but also – importantly –are an acknowledgement that the sector has many of the levers needed to affect change, given the time, space and opportunity to reflect on new ways of using them. Joining the dots resources are intended to act as prompts to and bring fresh new perspective from our initial scoping exercise to unlock a problem. They are also an important way of acknowledging that none of us in isolation hold all the information and expertise needed. To deliver strategic change we have to unlock existing capacity – by joining the dots.

Anna Racher

Anna Racher is the Partnership Manager for the Tackling Child Exploitation Support Programme, which is a Department for Education funded partnership, led by Research in Practice with The Children’s Society and the University of Bedfordshire. The programme focuses on changing the systems which support exploited children and young people in order to make a greater positive impact for them and their families.

Learning To Support Strategic Leaders In Tackling Child Exploitation

Learning to support strategic leaders in tackling child exploitation

A new open access online resource supports cross-sector leaders achieve system change in tackling child exploitation.
View the tackling child exploitation resources