So again we have learnt about a series of convictions for aspects of child sexual exploitation, and again we are reminded that although this was in Huddersfield this time, the same patterns of behaviour can be seen all over the country. The impact of the abuse suffered by the teenage girls was described graphically in a number of weekend papers and so there will be similar stories in most if not all of our communities. What can churches do to prevent and spot abuse before its takes firm hold and then as necessary help to restore individuals to live without fear?
One thing is clear – it’s a big challenge and we can’t do it all on our own. Local authorities, health services and the police will work together, and with partner agencies, to develop local prevention strategies that in part rely on empowering young people to resist getting swept up in a series of circumstances they cannot escape from. So given our ambition to enable young people to live fulfilled lives, our church youth work offer becomes part of the armoury of community resources that can be deployed, and it will be more effective if local safeguarders become involved in the planning. Our local church and circuit safeguarding officers can bring knowledge and expertise that can match the direct engagement skills of our youth workers.
As this column has identified before, our outward facing churches are also well placed to observe what is happening on our streets and in our local communities, gather the pieces of the jigsaw together and bring what it reveals to the attention of the authorities.
In the past though individuals and communities have tried to tell their stories and have sometimes been pushed back for a number of reasons. If this happens in your church or community then please do let your District Safeguarding Officer know, as with their connections they may well be able to push your concerns up the local agenda.
This approach applies equally to serious youth violence and yesterday I visited a church in NE London that is opposite the site of a fatal shooting that took place earlier this year. The minister spoke about how youth workers from the church were aiming to support young people affected by this and advise on how they can keep themselves safe. But it’s too important to be left just to youth workers; a whole church response, grounded in prayer and the wise sharing of our talents is what’s required.