The Committee welcomed Ben Banks and Serrina Lobban, representatives of Barnardo’s to the meeting, to speak to the Committee about the Stop It Before It Starts project, an early intervention Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) service part-funded by City Bridge Trust. The service was being pioneered in three London boroughs each with a different focus, aiming to raise awareness of CSE amongst a number of groups. The service used early intervention workshops and direct one-to-one work to empower young people and equip them to feel safe. A number of voluntary and community groups had engaged in the workshops. Group work sessions were also delivered in co-operation with organisations that worked with children, and Parent and Carer sessions were also delivered in schools.
The service covered areas around CSE such as grooming, the internet and law with discussion and conversations. When the service began in 2016, referrals for boys and young men were low, and vulnerability factors were clearer with girls. This was a gap that the service aimed to overcome with the right focus, including alternative provisions for boys.
Whilst young people had found the project intimidating at first, they eventually relaxed and often overcame their fears. The majority of young boys who were referred actively engaged with the service, although there was still some resistance. However, the service was having a positive impact and Barnardo’s would continue to raise its profile, and increase communication and awareness of CSE issues.
The focus for each borough was devised through conversations with local authority leads in each area that identified gaps in the current service provision. For example, the focus on boys and young men in Hackney was due to the higher number of referrals in the other two boroughs. Barnardo’s was involved in over forty CSE services across the UK, and one of the biggest barriers they faced was local authority engagement where it was needed. Often perceptions of CSE needed to be challenged as they were unhelpful, and this linked in with the purpose of the project; that having conversations could encourage confidence and weaken stereotypes. Barnardo’s had also acted as advocates at Multi Agency Sexual Exploitation (MASE) meetings which had enabled them to raise their agenda with professionals, which had proved very helpful.
The Committee thanked Serrina and Ben for their excellent presentation and for attending the meeting.