South Yorkshire Empower and Protect (SYEP) programme was set up as a partnership between Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham local authorities and Doncaster Children’s Services Trust and voluntary sector partner Catch 22 to tackle the challenge of referrals related to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) that were increasing year on year for over a decade.
The programme aims to enable young people experiencing or at high risk of sexual exploitation and to remain safely in their communities, either at home or in stable foster care in South Yorkshire, rather than being placed out-of-area or in secure accommodation.
For young people already in care, this involved recruitment and training of specialist foster carers, intensive support and therapeutic input to help sustain placements. For young people living at home, SYEP worked with family members to increase their understanding of CSE and ability to manage risks, and provide appropriate care. SYEP also sought to increase reflective social-work practice based upon relationships, through modelling, supervision and training.
SYEP experienced challenges in engaging social workers and managers, and there was uncertainty around the cost benefits of the programme. For these reasons, the project was not continued beyond March 2017.
The DfE-funded independent evaluation published in 2017 found that:
- The programme has successfully demonstrated that CSE affected young people can be safely cared for in their own communities.
- Providing foster carers with specialist training and direct access to clinical expertise from the beginning of a challenging placement, rather than only when a breakdown is on the cards, has greatly enhanced carers’ ability to cope with self-harm, missing episodes etc. Foster carers consistently reported positive experiences of training and support. In cases where young people have remained in their family home, parents have been successfully engaged and some family relationships have improved as a result.
- Young people have engaged with the support provided and there is evidence that key risk factors (e.g. missing episodes) have been reduced and protective factors (e.g. school attendance) increased. Nine out of 14 cases showed a reduction in risk and in 3 of these cases this was a significant reduction.
- Young people were extremely positively about the support they had received.