The role of the child exploitation specialist nurse
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Being the only specialist nurse in this area across the counties we police makes Tracy Dickens and her role within the force’s multi-agency Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) team quite unique.
The CSE team was introduced in 2014 as a dedicated resource to tackle the ongoing and growing issue around the sexual exploitation of children across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
The team consists of representatives from the police, social care, health and other support workers to ensure a joined-up approach is taken to safeguard children.
Tracy has been a registered nurse for 26 years and is employed by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. She has been based in the team since 2016 and talks about her role and the benefits of being directly based within the wider team.
Tracy said: “I am the only Child Exploitation specialist nurse in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland and the primary point of contact for expert advice, training and support for a range of health staff and health providers working to support children and young people at risk of or being exploited.
"Being co-located within the exploitation hub at the police station with many other agencies maximises the opportunity for me to do this by sharing information or raising issues at a very early stage allowing us to identify those children at risk sooner and reduce the threat of continued exploitation.
“We have found in the past that some health professionals were not always spotting the signs of exploitation when signs were not as well known. My role has allowed me to share my knowledge amongst the health network and increase the possibility of those signs being recognised and that the relevant referrals are being made.
“I have been able to be that conduit between the health side of child exploitation and all the other agencies involved such as social care and the police to streamline our processes and ensure that children have access to a sexual health service in a timely manner.”
Tracy’s position requires her to place a flag on children’s health records so that those who work in health care are aware when children are at risk or victims of being exploited. Tracy also provides effective advice and support, including the assessment of risk, to health practitioners to support them in recognising and responding appropriately to exploitation.
Tracy is also largely involved in developing and implementing exploitation awareness training and guidance for health practitioners and raise concerns with health leads so that the needs of children who have been exploited are highlighted.
Tracy said: “Being a new role in 2016, and the only one that there is, took a little time to develop our processes, procedures and pathways for health workers. Since then, we have continued to develop the role and have been encouraged to see it materialise into something that health workers know is there and use its benefits to work more collectively together across the agencies.
“Information sharing is extremely important and we have achieved swift access into the appropriate health services such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), sexual health, substance misuse, Healthy Child Nurses and midwifery if needed. I really enjoy working in a multi-agency team as it’s really interesting to learn to understand another agencies perspective and how a decision is made by a different organisation. The team makes the role so much easier to carry out, knowing that alongside others we all have the same priority, that children are listened to and safeguarded.
“Our interaction differs from child to child and can require a particular careful and balanced approach given that’s child’s background, current lifestyle or health. I recently worked on a referral involved a young girl with complex mental health needs who was suspected of being groomed online and thereafter sharing explicit messages with others. The nurse who made the referral was guided through the process and contact was made with the girl’s parent who was understandably extremely anxious. Carefully through liaison with the parent and at the girls own pace, the relevant assessments were completed and a senior CSE Practitioner, who has expertise in working with children with mental health needs, is now working with the family and engaging with the child.”
Tracy added: “My message around CSE would be to those in health care to be aware of the signs of child exploitation. They can be the first person that a child may present to so it’s extremely important that they know how to recognise and respond to the signs of exploitation and know how to make a referral to safeguard children from further exploitation.”
Information around CSE can be found by visiting https://www.leics.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/caa/child-abuse/child-sexual-exploitation/