Rotherham: The Real Child

When a colossal national scandal is dragged into the light of day a void of interest is suddenly filled with the anger, opinion and comment of many.  It’s an issue of misogyny, race, culture, class, power, politics, resources, training, depending on one’s view and experience of the world and sometimes on the particular axe one is grinding (or paid to grind).

If the abuse of an estimated 1,400 children in Rotherham in recent times was down to any one or even two of these issues then how neat it would be.  We could pin the blame on a particular group whether they are Asian men, powerful white men, governments for under-resourcing children’s services, clothing retailers for selling sexualised clothing for children, or bad parents and give them hell.  But it’s never as simple as that.  There is no such thing as the single cause of a complex tragedy.

Many who have stood across the desk from Children’s Social Care, the Police, Education and the NHS on matters of child protection and wellbeing will know how bloody hard it is to get heard and believed (and not blamed) and to get access to necessary practical help and support.  It is important to point out that there are many examples of good practice, where children and families get the help they need, but it is equally important to say that there are big slices of crap practice in every service.  The great and the good will probably never have to experience this crap service, but if you do, you soon become aware of how thin the veneer is between being in and out of favour.  And to fall out and down between the cracks is terrifying, particularly if you’ve grown up believing that if you found yourself in a horrible situation, the state would be there to help you and not look upon you as some kind of unhinged liar.

For me the issues around this tragedy are nuanced and difficult.  It is about many of the headline issues and much more.  When the bottom line is that children and their families aren’t believed or are blamed for abuse inflicted upon them, by those whose job it is to protect them, that’s a sure sign there’s a lot of work to do.  That’s pretty much as bad as it gets.

If the reports are correct, the groups of predatory men who have abused 1,400 children in Rotherham are well-organised, well-led and focussed.  These are not words I would use to describe support for children in crisis across Social Care, the Police, Education and the NHS.  The criminals are not only exploiting vulnerable children, but a vulnerable and fragmented system too.

The response to this crisis has to be nationally led, cohesive, courageous, funded and long term.  (And at the risk of jumping to a simplistic conclusion myself, I’m not at all sure that local councils are best placed to lead the way.)

‘Elizabeth’ is the mother of ‘Lara’, one of the victims of the Oxfordshire grooming ring.  During a recent interview on Woman’s Hour they both gave a clear description of how the grooming took place and how many opportunities to stop it were missed by the services.  I’ll leave you with a quote from ‘Elizabeth’ (who would be an asset to any national enquiry),

‘There were extraordinary moments when in a particular situation Lara would rise to the occasion, help nurse my dying father, look after my frail mother, run around helping friends in need which also helped me to see the real child, the real girl and all this other stuff is the result of abuse, mistreatment and poor service response, but underneath it all there is a wonderful child there and that’s the child that’s got to be rescued from all this’.

2 thoughts on “Rotherham: The Real Child

  1. ChrisH

    Another great blog Sally. Covers so many of the issues very well. The point that the abusers were better organised than many children’s support services is particularly telling.


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