This story of a 14-year-old who was being groomed and in danger of sexual exploitation illustrates the importance of multi-agency child protection

Jason is 14, nearly 15 and until a few weeks ago had been meeting an older man who he met on the internet.

School first raised concerns. Jason’s attendance was below 50%. The education social worker tried hard to engage with Jason, visiting him at home and occasionally managing to get him into school. However, Jason started leaving home before the social worker arrived and it was getting more difficult to catch him there.

Jason did occasionally turn up at school but usually did not stay long. His teachers were aware that other young people in Jason’s tutor group held very mixed views about him. Some of his peers subjected Jason to verbal bullying with homophobic overtones, but others showed great concern for him.

It was a female friend, May, who told her teacher that she was worried about what Jason was doing online. May didn’t know exactly what was happening but she said Jason was always online to a man called George and that he was a lot older – about 26 or 27.

May said that one evening when Jason had been at her house talking to George online she had asked him why he was talking to an older bloke. Jason told May that George was the only person who understood him. This had happened about four months ago and Jason hadn’t been to May’s house since then, but she had seen him getting into a car that always parked at the end of their street.

Engaging JasonFollowing May’s disclosure, the school’s named person for child protection had rung the children’s social care initial contact point and had been advised to refer Jason to the young men’s sexual health service. This service is run by a voluntary agency and employs a project worker whose role it is to engage and work with boys and young men who are at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Margaret, the project worker, met with Jason’s mum and gained her consent to meet with Jason. Mum was shocked but not surprised that Jason had been seen getting into a car. She had been worried about where he had been going but hadn’t really known how to get help. She told Margaret that she believed that Jason was gay, but when she tried to talk to his father about it he just dismissed it, saying Jason was going through a ‘funny stage’ that he would grow out of.

Mum and dad had separated three years ago when Jason was 12 and mum thought that that was when Jason started missing school. Until about three months before Jason had been seeing his father every weekend but now he always found an excuse not to go. Jason’s dad had met someone else and mum had put Jason’s reluctance to visit down to this. Jason had said he didn’t like his dad’s new girlfriend and she was always there.

Margaret asked mum if Jason had ever gone missing overnight. Mum said no, but he had been coming home late and just going straight up to his room. Mum had thought she had smelt alcohol on Jason a few times recently and on one occasion she thought he might have taken drugs because he looked very ‘spaced out’. If Jason’s mum tried to talk to him about these issues he would storm out and not come back for hours. Mum had stopped confronting him for fear of pushing him away. She said she had thought about trying to look at what he had been doing on his computer but didn’t know how to do it.

Margaret felt from what she had told her that Jason was at risk of sexual abuse by at least one older man, if not more, and also felt that he was becoming isolated from his main source of support, his mum. Added to this mum was feeling less and less in control.

In this LA there is a multi-agency strategic group set up to look at young people at risk of sexual exploitation. Margaret asked mum for consent to take Jason’s situation to this group. Mum agreed and thanked Margaret for her support.

The next day Margaret visited at tea time and luckily found Jason in. He initially refused to speak to her but he was desperate for some money from his mum and she said that she wouldn’t give him any until he had sat down to have a cuppa with her and Margaret.

Margaret explained who she was and how she worked with young men who are struggling with all kinds of issues. She explained that mum was worried about him and that she knew he had been missing school. Jason just kept his head down. Margaret told him that some of his friends at school were worried too. At this Jason said, ‘Oh yeah, like they are.’

Margaret kept going and Jason stared at the ceiling. Margaret asked mum if she could put the kettle on and once she had left the room Margaret said, ‘Your mum is worried that you are getting involved with older men. She cares about you and doesn’t want you to get hurt.’ Jason said ‘She doesn’t need to worry about me. I can look after myself.’

Margaret explained that Jason not attending school would get his mum into trouble, that she could be taken to court. Jason sat quiet but was clearly listening. ‘I will leave you some leaflets to read about the service that I work for. I work with lots of young men who are struggling with their sexuality and don’t feel they can talk to anyone about it.’ Jason looked like he was going to say something for a moment but mum came back in. Jason quickly put the leaflets under the cushion.

Widespread concern
The following week Margaret took Jason’s case to the multi-agency meeting and was surprised to discover that a number of agencies were just becoming aware of him. A project worker from a service that works with girls at risk of exploitation reported that a girl she was working with had mentioned Jason. The girl had taken Jason out with her to a night club,  because she felt sorry for him. The police were investigating a man called George who was believed to pick up boys and pass them on to other sex abusers when he got tired of them. Police were near to arresting George but were waiting for some information from officers who had been tracking his behaviour online. The police intended to seize his computer. Margaret was able to inform them that Jason had met George online and that there might be further evidence on Jason’s computer.

One of the social workers knew of Jason because of school’s earlier contact and suggested that there should be a sexual exploitation case conference with a view to making Jason subject to a child protection plan.

The following Monday, Jason went to school. Mum was so pleased she rang Margaret. However, he was home by 11. He came in ran upstairs and locked himself in the bathroom. Mum talked to him through the door. He had gone to school and was OK in the first lesson but when he went into his maths class the teacher had said: ‘Goodness me, look what the cat dragged in.’ and everyone had laughed. Jason said everyone was looking at him and he had panicked and had run out of the door.

The following night, Jason stayed in. May came round and he looked genuinely pleased to see her. May told Jason’s mum that not all the class had laughed and that she and two other girls had gone to see the year head to complain about the teacher. Before very long Jason and May were laughing and teasing each other like they used to.

As soon as May had gone Mum took the opportunity to talk to Jason, telling him how good it was to see him back to his old self.

George is arrested
The following week, the police arrested George. They asked Margaret to go to see Jason and his mum with them. Margaret phoned Jason’s mum to warn her.

Jason looked scared when the police turned up, Margaret assured him that he was not in any trouble. Jason and his mum sat together while the police told them about George. George had been charged with the sexual assault of three boys and for having child pornography on his computer. The police officer asked Jason how he had met George and Jason told how he had been in a chat room and George had started talking to him. Over a period of time George had groomed Jason,  playing on his mixed-up feelings about his sexuality, his parent’s break up and his feelings towards his father.

George hadn’t lied about his age but had told Jason that he was a youth worker and worked in a youth club in the next town. He suggested to Jason that if he wanted new friends he could take him to the youth club. Jason had agreed but George didn’t take him to a youth club, he took him to a coffee bar in the next town. The coffee bar was full of young people and this was where he had met a girl called Jane who had taken him to a night club a few weeks later. The police took Jason’s computer and his mobile phone and reassured Jason again that he wasn’t in trouble. Margaret left, promising to see Jason in a few days’ time.

Once Jason was alone with his mum he burst into tears. Mum sat and hugged Jason and slowly he began to tell her how scared he had been. George had seemed OK at first but had started trying to touch him. Jane had told him that George would only keep him a few months then pass him on to other men. Jane had told Jason not to meet George again but George had threatened Jason that if he didn’t keep meeting him he would kill himself and it would be Jason’s fault. Each time George dropped Jason off he had apologised for touching him and promised that it would never happen again.

Jason’s mum asked him why he had gone to meet George the first time and Jason told her that George had listened to him. He had told George that he thought he might be gay and George had been sympathetic and had said he had felt like that at his age.

A few days later Margaret went to see Jason and she has been seeing him weekly since. Jason is on a phased return to school and his mum says he seems a little more confident. May has continued to be a great support to Jason and comes round most evenings.

Jason has been interviewed by the police and may have to go to court. He is scared but says he will go because he doesn’t want George to be able to trick another boy like he tricked him.

Children’s social care decided that Jason did not need a case conference as his relationship with his mum is now much stronger and he has continued to see Margaret on a regular basis. Margaret’s service runs a group for young men and Jason is going to start attending.

Jason’s dad has not been able to accept that Jason is gay and at the moment is refusing to visit him.

Working together
This case study demonstrates how important it is for agencies to share their information and work together. In Jason’s case there was a relatively good outcome. Margaret’s early intervention and mum’s willingness to work with services played a large part in Jason’s exit from an extremely dangerous situation.

We are unable to publish reader comments about individual child protection concerns on this website. If you are worried about a child please call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 for help and advice. Alternatively you can contact your Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) through your local council.

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