So I felt it would be timely to revisit this issue following the blog I wrote last September just as the high-profile failings in Rotherham had begun to make headlines.
Calling something a ‘week of action’ is helpful to raise awareness but, of course, there is constant action on this issue.
In my previous CSE blog I tried to show how seriously we take the sexual exploitation of children here; how we learn lessons when things don’t work as they should (here or elsewhere); and that we have the right policies, procedures and culture in place to ensure victims are supported and not allowed to fall through the net.
I wanted people to know what we’re doing to ensure checks and balances are in place and that we’re actually undertaking and supporting a whole range of activity that tries to prevent people becoming victims, and also puts victims first.
I also gave context to what is an extremely complex issue and considered some of the cultural issues that have been allowed to develop within many varying communities and social groups.
I’m referring here to toxic cultures that can build within communities and institutions over time and influence how often those involved or connected act when people’s behaviours cause concern. To this day there are still historical cases of sexual abuse emerging which were either brushed under the carpet at the time or simply not taken seriously because of the people involved.
In Oldham it’s my view that all our ward members, regardless of political views, are united in their resolve to safeguard the most vulnerable and give their full commitment to ensuring children and young people are protected from abuse of any kind. This means being firm in standing up and being counted – and tackling some very complex and emotionally disturbing issues.
But we also shouldn’t be naïve. While there are many political parties and activists who subscribe to fairness, some certainly do not.
Because this particular form and pattern of abuse was reported to have been carried out by predominately Asian males against mainly white girls there are some who try and tar a whole race or religion, using this as a hook to hang their hate on.
That’s no more balanced than all white men being campaigned against because of the actions of others sharing the same skin colour, religion or faith.
It’s a nonsense. Abusers are abusers and they exist in every community and social group.
The week of action starting next Monday will see the start of publicity about the larger and stronger team dedicated to dealing with CSE in our borough.
The ‘Phoenix Oldham’ team will now officially take over what ‘Operation Messenger’ began – and with additional investment from both the council and the police we’ve significantly increased the capacity and strengthened what we do.
From April 1, there’ll now be two senior social workers and one additional Family Support Worker in the team working with children and young people at both an early preventative stage, and with those subject to a CSE protection plan.
These young people are more likely to move quickly up and down the continuum of CSE risk so having additional staff providing support to a key social worker will further ensure that no child slips through the net.
Child protection and CSE briefings are also taking place at the end of March to explain these issues to our staff who are out and about in the community.
Not only will this further raise their awareness it will also give clear messages about how and when to report their concerns. Our staff, the majority of whom live in our borough, should be our eyes and ears in helping to eradicate CSE from communities.
Our team will also be carrying out extra patrols and enforcement across the borough, plus raising awareness of CSE via posters and promotional material for the CSE reporting website “It’s not Okay” – including supporting the police with a market stall in the town centre.
In addition to that we’ll working with taxi firms to offer training and advice on keeping children and young people safe.
Social workers from Phoenix Oldham will also be linking into Oldham’s schools offering advice on CSE and young people who are missing education as schools continue to be a focus for our prevention work.
I’d also like to highlight our prevention work with GW theatre which has been delivered via the play “Somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter”.
I mentioned this in my previous blog, but what you may not be aware of is that the play was actually first developed here in Oldham in partnership with GW theatre.
Councils across the country have since commissioned performances and I’m proud we’ve played a leading role in bringing this important prevention tool to national audiences.
Across the UK, around 70 young people have so far made disclosures after seeing the play and, building on that success, we’re now working with GW theatre again (alongside five other local authorities) to develop an age appropriate prevention tool for 10-12 year olds.
Last year the play visited every secondary school and college in our borough and was seen by around 3,500 young people – mainly in year 10. We’re working with schools to roll it out again this year and aiming for a further 4,000 pupils to see it before the end of summer term.
Two community performances are also planned for June, so please get along to one if you can because eradicating the exploitation of children in the borough is, ultimately, everyone’s responsibility.
Please remember that if we ever stop being open about these difficult issues we run the risk of failing to tackling it and that means – worst of all – we let down those who need us to speak up most: the victims.
Thanks for listening,