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A child in social services care in Wales was moved 57 times

Wales Online logo Wales Online 09/08/2019 Abbie Wightwick
a young girl with long hair © Photography by Tom Hull

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A child was moved 57 times while in the care of social services in a local authority in Wales.

The multiple moves may have left the child at greater risk of sexual exploitation.

A child's horrific story was revealed as part of a study of more than 200 children aged nine to 18 was carried out by researchers at Cardiff University.

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It found that on average children were moved to different living places nine times. The worst case was of the child moved 57 times.

The more moves a child in care experiences, the higher their chances are of becoming victims of sexual exploitation later on, the study led by Dr Sophie Hallett concludes.

a person sitting on a bed © Provided by Reach Publishing Services Limited

The 205 children she studied in Wales were the first young people in the UK to be assessed for their risk to child sexual exploitation (CSE) – as a whole group in 2006 when the research began.

Problems some young children and young people experience leads some to exchange sex as a coping response, Dr Hallet’s previous research has shown.

The new report shows that females among the 205 cases looked at were more likely to be victims of child sexual exploitation.

If the child had been a victim of sexual abuse previously, they were also more than five times more likely to be abused again through sexual exploitation.

Dr Hallett, based in Cardiff University’s school of social sciences, said: “A less predictable home environment can have huge consequences for children. Without a stable home life, feelings of rejection and insecurity are exacerbated. For multiple complex reasons, it leads to them becoming more susceptible to this form of abuse.”

a man sitting on a bench: Poverty is a reality for nearly a quarter of people in Wales © Roman Bodnarchuk Poverty is a reality for nearly a quarter of people in Wales

The report, Keeping Safe? An analysis of the outcomes of work with sexually exploited young people in Wales, also shows that frequent moves makes it more likely that the young person won’t be in education and/or employment.

Other findings included:

  • One in three young people in the study had experienced sexual abuse at some point in their childhood.
  • More than two thirds had experienced emotional abuse.
  • More than half had experienced physical violence.
  • Half had experienced neglect by parents/caregivers prior to going into care.
  • Commonly used responses to child sexual exploitation, such as healthy relationships education, failed to have a positive impact for the majority of young people who received it.
  • Having a supportive adult in their lives had the most positive impact for young people.
a girl in a dress: The high cost and low availability of child care means some parents are leaving their children home alone in the holidays © Provided by Reach Publishing Services Limited The high cost and low availability of child care means some parents are leaving their children home alone in the holidays

Dr Hallett spent six weeks in a children’s residential home in Wales with young people judged at risk of child sexual exploitation.

She also gathered information from social workers, residential care workers, foster carers and young people.

She said: “The report presents a troubling account of the entire care system. Young people were angry at the bodily or behavioural attention they received and the seemingly limited concern for them and their happiness.

“Foster carers said there was no support to address the abuse or rejection children had experienced and were concerned that the safeguarding measures they were having to put in place were sending messages to young people that they were the ones at fault.”

Young people also described how interventions weren’t helping.

One said: “People just go asking me, why did you go to [place], why did you do this, who did you meet up, who was that, how old is he, what does he wear. I’m like oh my god, just stop like for real, it’s just a lot.

"Most of the time I don’t answer, but when I answer I just lie. I’ve told them, they already know this I have told them I don’t want to speak to you. She [worker] goes you’re going to have to speak to me. No. I’m just going to lie to you all day.”

Dr Hallett said residential workers and social workers felt their work revolved around managing risky behaviours and they don’t have the resources to focus on causes of that behaviour, such as loss, abuse and rejection that many of the young people they work with struggle with.

“Unless more is done to recognise and address these widespread concerns, child sexual exploitation is going to remain a serious problem.”

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