The rise in concern about sexual exploitation and the difficulties of keeping exploited young people safe in the community has resulted in more referrals of sexually exploited young women to secure accommodation. However, depriving young people of their liberty on welfare grounds is a contentious issue.
Durham County Council developed a specialist unit and bespoke programme at the Aycliffe Secure Centre to work with young people suffering trauma as a result of child sexual exploitation, aiming to assess the extent to which secure accommodation provides a therapeutic environment, builds relationships and facilitates transitions back to the community.
The project appointed a strong core team to work alongside residential workers with a shared practice model. The programme for young people comprises a period of three to six months accommodated in a secure therapeutic environment; the development of positive relationships with specialist workers and mentors; transitional support for three months; and longer-term community support.
The DfE-funded independent evaluation published in 2017 found that over the course of the pilot period, eleven young women were resident in the specialist house, mainly referred on three month orders (with some extended to 6 months). Ages ranged from 13 to 17 years. The development of positive relationships with staff was a key objective of the pilot and staff succeeded in developing some very positive relationships. There was some evidence of improvements in the mental and emotional well being of some young people during their time at Aycliffe. However, the project has been unable to address the complex underlying difficulties affecting many of the young women referred in the short time available to do so.