THE BLOG

Child Protection: Listening to Children and Professionals

04/09/2014 23:35 BST | Updated 04/11/2014 10:59 GMT

At Action for Children, we cover a lot of ground. We're proud of our work with all the children we help, including children in care, disabled children, children in need of protection and more. We provide services in settings ranging from children's centres to women's prisons. At the core of all this work lies a principle steering absolutely everything we do: striving to make the lives of children better.

And the most fundamental way to improve their lives? Ensuring they are safe. Safety from harm is every child's right. It still shocks me every time this right is denied and atrocities hit our headlines.

Every day, we work with vulnerable children, many of whom have experienced or are at risk of child sexual exploitation. This horrific abuse has affected a number of children supported by our services, whether related to risks to those in residential or foster care, or to young parents receiving our help.

Awareness must be raised and professionals, children, and their carers must be educated about the risks around exploitation, as well as ways to guard against it.

To achieve this goal, Action for Children is constantly developing new ways of working with young people to help them keep themselves safe. Just this summer, we launched a new residential care model, based on building resilience in young people. Our toolkit, which helps young people succeed in life, was developed by the top experts out there: the children whose lives are impacted by these services every day.

We know that children in care are at higher risk of abuse such as sexual exploitation, but when they are given the chance to develop in an environment they consider home with people they know and trust, they are more resilient to these dangers. One young person told us: "If you feel good about yourself, you're less likely to put yourself in a risky situation." The children we work with, above all others, form the foundation of our practice and listening to them can help hugely in the fight against child abuse - no voice should be left unheard.

The idea of listening leads me to another issue recently raised in the news - mandatory reporting. As child abuse in places like hospitals, boarding schools and children's homes has been uncovered, it has become apparent that some of these cases have involved abuse being covered up or ignored. There is a clear case for action. For this reason, Action for Children endorses the NSPCC's recent proposal to make it a criminal offence knowingly to cover up cases of child abuse in institutional settings. We also strongly agree with NSPCC colleagues that any concerns should be referred to an external body for consideration and investigation, to avoid institutional conflicts of interest.

This is just part of the solution. What would protect the most children is to ensure that people feel able to come forward with concerns at an early stage, safe in the knowledge that something will be done.

Lately, very sadly, we have not only seen reports of recent cases of abuse, but also reports of historic cases, some from as long ago as 50 years. Action for Children, like so many others, has faced challenges in the past. Every childhood is priceless and there is never an excuse for failing to keep a child safe, regardless of the culture or era in which you operate. It is undeniable that there have been terrible mistakes, but we have learned from these mistakes and have taken action. We will always measure the quality of our services by the difference they make to children's lives.

Every day, we learn from the children we help and will not rest until we are sure we are doing all we can to keep the most vulnerable children safe. We still have a long road ahead, but I am hopeful - in fact, excited for the future. On the ground, I see professionals who are taking the initiative, who are never complacent in their work; social workers, teachers, charity workers and others who grab every opportunity to stop and think, How could we do this differently and help children more? They know that a child's life cannot be defined by a form and they show the passion and tenacity to think outside the tick-box. We can all learn a lot from these heroes, who really are building a better future for children throughout the UK.