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Specialist foster carers needed for sexually exploited children

15 May 2012

Barnardo’s chief exec Anne Marie Carrie talks about the current risks to sexually exploited children and how we are trying to reduce those by offering specialist care.

Barnardo’s is piloting a unique scheme with the Department for Education to offer alternative, safe accommodation for victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking, with specially trained and highly supported foster carers.

It is a project with a lot of young lives riding on it and its success could help transform the future of society’s most vulnerable.

If a society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable then we are truly failing when it comes to some of our youngest.

In the 17 years Barnardo’s has been working to stop child sexual exploitation it has become clear that victims have been preyed upon because of their vulnerability and their sadly low opinions of themselves.

Our report Not A World Away found that in a study sample of 1,102 children known to social services, 70 per cent of whom were in care, social workers identified a staggering one in five that were at significant risk of sexual exploitation.

And it gets worse, sexual exploitation was found to be an issue of concern for almost two thirds of girls in residential care. And for half of these children it became a concern after they entered into care.

Our services have heard countless stories of men waiting outside care homes to befriend these unwitting children, some as young as 12, desperate for love. Men attract them with flashy cars, gifts and feigned kindness, waiting for the child to fall in love with them before abusing them on a scale which is incomprehensible to most, but sadly very real.

Rates of sexual exploitation of those in care varies depending on the type of care placement they are in, with the risks being far higher for those in residential care compared to foster care.

And for those young people who are placed by their local authority, often due to financial constraints, in bed and breakfast accommodation with other vulnerable adults and ex-prisoners the risks can be extraordinarily high.

Last week, when I was with a Barnardo’s outreach team, I met two such children; a 16-year-old boy who is known to have been targeted by unscrupulous sexually exploitative adults in the past and a runaway 15-year-old girl who was befriended by several undesirable, much older people. The bed and breakfast ‘home’ these children had been given was so dangerous that the risk to their safety increased tenfold the minute they walked through the door. It is truly heartbreaking.

These young people, who have already been seriously harmed, need extra special care. They need to be protected from these insidious criminals, but apart from locking them up in secure accommodation and effectively punishing the victim rather than the perpetrator, how do we stop it from happening?

Could you foster a vulnerable child?  Barnardo’s is looking for a number of exceptional people to take on an equally exceptional role, to provide high-quality foster care for children and young people who have been sexually exploited.

They have been exposed to abusive situations and need foster carers who can offer a secure and caring environment.

Working as part of a team, Barnardo’s will provide specialist training, advice and support from its experienced staff.

You need to be someone who has an understanding of those who are vulnerable and be able to provide them with a welcoming, safe and secure home environment.”

Anyone interested in the role should contact Barnardo’s on 0800 0277 280.

Support the ongoing work of Barnardos with a monthly donation from pay.

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