Wigan was chosen to help pilot a major overhaul of national anti-child sexual exploitation policy alongside troubled Rochdale not because it has a particular problem but because it had a good plan.
That said, at the time the councils landed almost £1m from the Government for the CSE pilot, 42 borough youngsters were said to be at risk of abuse - higher than the Greater Manchester average.
A year on and the council, in partnership with the Children’s Society, Research In Practice, the University of Greenwich and NatCen, has tabled a new way of thinking for dealing with at least some cases.
Under Project Phoenix, Greater Manchester’s multi-agency approach to tackling CSE, the partnership will help more vulnerable young people and their parents to receive the help they need, rather than the young people being taken into care and living many miles away from their home, friends and family in order to protect them from those who exploit them.
The pilot team, which began operating in January, will work closely with young people and their families, staff and professionals to develop and design the new ways of working with young people and their families where CSE is an issue.
The team is being led by Nick Marsh, an experienced social worker and manager who is familiar with “complex” safeguarding issues, such as CSE and human trafficking, having worked with Greater Manchester Police to support their approach to organised crime and human trafficking.
Coun Joanne Platt, cabinet member for young people at Wigan Council, said: “Over 100 young people at high risk of CSE in Greater Manchester are placed in residential care homes or secure care every year. While this can be necessary to ensure they are not exposed to any further risk of abuse, this new approach will explore new ways of working with children and teenagers to prevent them from suffering such significant and sometimes damaging disruption while keeping them safe from harm.”
Children Society Greater Manchester director Rob Jackson said: “We want to see investment in tackling child sexual exploitation, but we want that investment to be directed into interventions which ensure all young people at risk receive the best possible support depending upon their individual circumstances.
“While we understand that the immediate protection of children is absolutely vital in the short-term, in as many cases as possible, parents and foster carers can and should be part of the solution and a key part of this project is learning from the experiences of young people and their families.”