Changing the role of assessment for young people affected by sexual exploitation

Mike Williams, senior evaluator, NSPCC, describes why assessment of children at risk needs to be more adaptive

Mike Williams, senior evaluator, NSPCC

When working with children and young people who may have been affected by sexual exploitation, an assessment of their experiences and needs is a vital starting point before any intervention plan can be discussed and agreed.  But what happens if the young person doesn't want to talk about their needs or experiences? What if they feel they have more important issues which fall outside the concern your service was set up to address?

This was the dilemma experienced by NSPCC practitioners delivering the Protect and Respect programme. This NSPCC service set-up in 2012, has been supporting children who have been sexually exploited, or where concerns of exploitation have arisen. Where professionals have low-level concerns about a child’s relationships they are offered group work - typically in schools. Where children are thought to be at risk of, or are experiencing exploitation they are offered one-to-one work with an NSPCC practitioner.

The one-to-one assessment requires the practitioner and young person to discuss seventeen areas of that young person's life. As some young people either do not want, or are unable, to talk about their personal life so early on because they feel there may be more pressing issues they want to address first.

Essentially, if the assessment is focussing on sexual exploitation too early on, or too exclusively, we run the risk the young person would withdraw from contact with their practitioner. As a result, practitioners should adapt their assessment technique to address the young person’s other concerns first and provide support on issues relating to family life or peer relationships as requested.

However, when the assessment is carried out this way, the practitioner may not always be certain that the young person is being sexually exploited or at risk of exploitation, meaning they have to learn to work with uncertainty too.  Protect and Respect has redeveloped the assessment tool to reflect a strengths-based, child-centred assessment which uses professional judgement to assess risk, as opposed to a scoring tool.

By gaining an understanding of a child’s lived experience and using their professional judgement, practitioners ensured they are able to support young people affected by exploitation, even if they were unable to meet the requirements for a rigorous assessment at the beginning of the work.  

The Protect and Respect evaluation reports are available on the NSPCC website.

Tags: children at risk, child abuse and neglect support, child assessment, NSPCC

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