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Protecting young people from sexual exploitation

At St Christopher’s we care for young people who have experienced or are at risk of sexual exploitation. Our specialist Safe Steps children’s home challenges traditional ways of protecting girls by focusing on relationships and self-esteem. To mark CSE Awareness Day on 18 March, home manager Laverne shares examples of the team’s practice and how they have developed their model.

“Safe Steps is a children’s home for girls aged 12-17 who are in care and have experienced CSE, grooming or gang involvement. We strive to develop meaningful relationships with young people to counteract the pull of exploiters in the community. We are attentive to their interests, personality traits and habits to show young people how much we care and offer security. This is more effective than restricting their liberty; enjoying positive relationships helps them to work through any feelings of loss or trauma that they might have experienced when young.

My team is tenacious and proactive in managing the risk of sexual exploitation. This may mean registering young people’s Oyster cards online to monitor their whereabouts in the community, or following young people if they attempt to abscond. We discourage them from going missing, which shows them that we care about their safety and wellbeing.

‘Young people have told us that this is their first home where people have actively tried to stop them from running away. They say it makes them feel cared for and proves that we are always looking out for their best interests.’

We also challenge potential perpetrators in the community, who may be attempting to groom young people. Working closely with the police means we contribute to making our community safer.

Because we have strong relationships with young people they feel safe to disclose incidents of abuse or exploitation. We have open and frank conversations with them around sexual health. They talk about their experiences of going missing, which gives staff an opportunity to respond to each young person’s vulnerabilities and triggers.

Once they move on from Safe Steps, the girls understand what healthy relationships look like. We stay in touch with every person who lives with us so they can always come back for support, advice or a catch-up.”

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