Along with a number of UK councils, Merton Council is supporting the DfE’s national Together, we can tackle child abuse campaign.
The campaign sets out to encourage residents to act on their instinct and get in touch with the council’s children’s social care team if they suspect a child is being harmed.
Critical signs of possible child abuse could be:
- Appearance – such as frequent unexplained injuries, consistently poor hygiene, matted hair, unexplained gifts or a parent regularly collecting children from school when drunk.
- Behaviour – such as demanding or aggressive behaviour, frequent lateness or absence from school, avoiding their own family, misusing drugs or alcohol or being constantly tired.
- Communication – such as sexual or aggressive language, self-harming, becoming secretive and reluctant to share information or being overly obedient.
In the week of Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day (18 March), the council brought together professionals with expertise in working with young and vulnerable people to share ideas and experiences as all agencies work together to try and eliminate child abuse and give every child their right to live safely and free from violence.
This year’s event focused on prevention by understanding how perpetrators operate and the various models of grooming. It also looked at how all professionals working with young people and the broader community, can help them build resilience and protect them.
Susie Carter from Barnardo’s provided an overview of her work locally. Emma Bradley, Young Women and Girls Worker who works for the council’s Children, Schools and Families (CSF) department spoke about effective interventions and Siobhan Edwards from CSF spoke about sexual health and child sexual exploitation. The Metropolitan Police gave a presentation on effective joint working on how to protect our children.
According to the DfE, the main barriers to people reporting suspected abuse are the fear of being wrong, misinterpreting the signs, overreacting or misunderstanding. Sometimes people may prefer to speak about their concerns to a friend or family member if they have their suspicions.
Through the CSE School Champions Group, which includes children’s services professionals from the council, schools across Merton have organised a series of events to raise awareness amongst their pupils, of what to look out for and what to do if they are concerned for a friend or for their own safety.
The police will be patrolling areas of the borough frequented by children such as parks and transport hubs. Part of their awareness raising work will include visiting minicab offices, pubs and hotels. They will also be working with the council, going into fast food shops where young people often go after school.
Merton Council’s interim cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Judy Saunders, said: “We work with our partners, including the police and voluntary organisations, to ensure we are there for some of our most vulnerable children. We all take our professional responsibility very seriously when it comes to making Merton a safe place to grow up. But we all have a responsibility to look out for our young people and make sure they feel there is support for them if they need it. If anyone has concerns about a young person, even if they aren’t quite sure, they should get in touch with us or the police and be reassured their concerns will be addressed sensitively, with the safety and wellbeing of the young people at the heart of everything we do.”
Anyone worried about a child in Merton should contact the council’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 020 8545 4227 or 020 8770 5000 (out of hours).
Anyone worried about the immediate safety of a child should contact the police by dialling 999.