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Sharing learning from Safe Steps in Europe

West London Regional Manager Angela Harris has attended a European knowledge exchange in Utrecht, the Netherlands, organised by Nederlands Jeugdinstituut to share approaches to supporting young women who have been sexually exploited.

Angela was one of the experts from the UK along with Wendy Shepherd from Barnardo’s and Sara Scott from DMSS Research, who all have experience supporting victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE).

During their visit they had the opportunity to visit FIDES, a residential home specifically for girls who have been exploited. Sara said: “It was obviously a ‘home’, but it was very clearly a therapy centre too providing a therapeutic environment with individual treatment. A full-time psychotherapist is part of the staff team and the girls are actively involved in developing their own treatment plans as therapy is ‘normalised’ within the home. Each young person also has a keyworker to reinforce the therapy in everyday conversations and experiences.”

On top of this FIDES recruit and support an attachment figure for each girl who is preferably, but not always, a parent. Staff work hard to engage parents to undertake psycho-educational work with them and support them to provide a ‘secure base’ for their child in the future.

Any transfers to secure units are for as little time as possible, then the young person is placed back in FIDES to maintain a continuity that is a rare experience for children in care in the UK. FIDES also runs a group work programme to build self-confidence and resilience.

The UK group gave a presentation on the existing models for working with young people who have experienced CSE. Angela also ran two workshops for service managers from government bodies and members of the police force. The sessions looked at learning from Safe Steps, our two children’s homes supporting girls at risk of CSE, and emphasised the importance of secure, positive relationships. She talked about restriction of liberty and shared St Christopher’s policies and procedures for dealing with incidents.

This was a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of St Christopher’s work with girls at risk of CSE and learn from experts in other countries. For example, in Belgium, CSE is referred to as Teen Pimps whilst in the Netherlands it is known as Loverboys, which made for an interesting discussion around the different terminology, the histories and politics of how we label this type of abuse, and how that then interacts with policy and practice.

It was great to work alongside and learn from like-minded people. I like the way they engage families in the treatment programme wherever possible. The experience has definitely given me food for thought!
Angela Harris, West London Regional Manager