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Brook response to Oldham Independent Review

Brook is deeply saddened that young people in Oldham experienced this tragic abuse and exploitation. These young people deserved better and should have received better care from the system.

Through our sexual health and wellbeing services, Brook has been keeping young people safe from harm since 1964. Our vision is that young people’s lives are free from inequality, rich with opportunity and enriched by happy, healthy relationships. Our mission is to equip young people for life’s challenges. Keeping our service users safe is our number one priority and our clinical experts are trained to identify and support those with complex safeguarding needs.

Given the nature of our work, our interactions with young people are often brief yet meaningful. We regularly engage with young people at times of sensitivity and vulnerability, quickly and effectively creating a climate of trust, openness and safety to ensure we provide the necessary clinical care whilst being alert to indicators of harm and abuse.

Whenever the system as a whole fails to support an individual, Brook reflects carefully on what more could have been done to provide a stronger voice and advocacy for them. We understand the vital importance of effective multi-agency working and collaboration in all safeguarding efforts, and we recognise the need to constructively challenge when required.

We are acutely aware that the tragic experience of these young people is not unique and the 2020 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 7.5% of adults aged 18-74 years experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 (3.1 million people).

Professional understanding of exploitation and contextual safeguarding has evolved in recent years, as have tools and resources available, and Brook is proud of its contribution in this area.

Our 2014 Spotting the Signs proforma, which was commissioned by the Department of Health & Social Care and developed in partnership with the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, has proven to be a valuable resource for professionals. The tool helps those working with young people under 18 to identify and respond to sexual exploitation. The tool is currently being revised and updated in consultation with professionals and young people to incorporate contemporary knowledge, research and insights concerning child sexual and child criminal exploitation.

Despite the increased understanding in the wider workforce of how to identify and respond to vulnerability and risk, children and young people need protection from harm now as much as ever. Brook accepts that there is no room for complacency. We must continue to adapt and respond to new and constantly changing forms of exploitation, not least in relation to the online world. Our understanding and ability to respond must outpace those seeking to exploit.

In our own clinical work we have seen an increase in serious safeguarding concerns, but we are struggling to refer young people to the right support. Both children’s social care and child and adolescent mental health services are stretched to breaking point in many areas. Children need and deserve properly funded services that are equipped to keep them safe from harm. Services must be staffed by professionals with the knowledge and the capacity to identify signs of abuse early and respond quickly and appropriately to protect them.

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