This is a story that broke during the week, that I simply didn’t have time to note. It’s the startling insight from research conducted by Barnardos that up to 2/3 of girls in care are at risk of abuse. Startling not just because of the enormous scale of the suspected abuse, but that there seems little evidence of much of it making its way into the criminal justice system.
The Not A World Away report notes that…
Those most frequently identified within the research were abuse through prostitution (most involving third-party organisation and gain), less obvious transactional exploitation in the context of party houses, and sexually exploitative relationships. Internet exploitation and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation were also identified as issues of concern although less frequently.
Recommendationsinclude the development of strategic framework:
1. When established, the SBNI should, as part of its work plan, consider the issue of child sexual exploitation and the effectiveness of current responses to it.
2. DHSSPS should revise existing Safeguarding and Child Protection Guidance to explicitly reference the complex nature and impact of sexual exploitation. This should be supported by the development of detailed inter-agency procedural to happen.
3. The HSC Board should progress the development of a targeted and fully resourced action plan on sexual exploitation that includes, but is not limited to, consideration of the following issues:
- data collection and monitoring professional competency and capacity
- best-practice models for responding to sexual exploitation, including the merits of a co-located inter-agency model of response
- regional implementation of the sexual exploitation risk assessment tool
- resourcing of a regional specialist support service.
4. The HSC Board should consider how best to coordinate and prioritise the provision of specialist (Tier 3) drug
and alcohol counselling services to young people who display signs of drug and alcohol abuse which may make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation, in particular to children living in residential care.
5. The Public Health Agency should develop a campaign to raise public awareness of the sexual exploitation of children and young people.
6. The NI Policing Board should incorporate child protection (including sexual exploitation) as a priority in forthcoming Policing Plans, in reflection of the critical importance of this area of work.
Since the figures are so conspicously high, it would be good to see how Northern Ireland compares with other parts of the UK and Ireland. Is this a typical rate of vulnerability? Or is Northern Ireland a special case? If it’s the latter, then whatever good policy instruments are put, then there has to be a question raised over whether there’s a willingness to tackle this problem.
Probably the most important thing to take from the Barnardo’s report is that these are only interim recommendations.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty