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Building trusted relationships for vulnerable children and young people with public services

Reviews of the child protection system have suggested that children who experience abuse lack a designated adult outside of the family system who is able to provide consistent support – or a ‘trusted relationship’. The Home Office is interested in how to increase vulnerable children’s access to trusted adults, and commissioned the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) to review the evidence on which features of trusted relationships are critical to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and young people, and to provide policy advice on how more of these relationships could be enabled in public services.

The focus of this review was on early intervention with children and young people who are vulnerable to either child sexual exploitation (CSE) or child sexual abuse

(CSA). The work included a rapid review of the published evidence-base and new, small-scale qualitative research with practitioners in this field.

Findings

  1. There is a strong logic for thinking that trusted relationships between a practitioner and a child can protect vulnerable young people from CSE or CSA, but as yet no evidence to support this.
  2. There is a lack of high-quality research evidence on the risk and protective factors for becoming a victim of CSE or CSA.
  3. There is broad consensus between research and practice on the features which allow trusted practitioner–child relationships to develop.
  4. The ability of public services to build trusted relationships with vulnerable children and young people appears to be influenced by the characteristics of the child or young person, the practitioner and the organisational context.
  5. There is good evidence for the effectiveness of high-quality mentoring approaches.

Conclusions and recommendations

The conclusions of the report suggest that Home Office policy on trusted relationships should take a systems-focused approach, and should strengthen existing capacity and infrastructure rather than introducing new interventions with time-limited funding.

This systems approach should focus on:

  •  System capability for trusted relationships, including leadership at a national level on relational practice and systems, investment in local capacity for workforce planning and the development of relational practice and systems, and ‘promising model’ trials in demonstration sites.
  • Mentoring for vulnerable young people, including the development of a consistent narrative about mentoring evidence, outcomes, quality and measurement to secure greater consistency and understanding, support for local development of mentoring quality, and ‘promising model’ trials in demonstration sites.
  • Effective implementation and evaluation, including exploration of how best to change workforce behaviour and organisational culture on relational practice, and measurement and evaluation that adds to the UK evidence-base on relational practices, including use of key relational practice measurement tools.