Grooming

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There has been a lot of (horrific) news recently about children being groomed. I wasn’t sure if it was a subject I knew much about so I did some research. Grooming in this context is when an adult deliberately befriends a child or young person with the intention of sexually abusing that child, either for the abuser’s gratification or by trafficking the child into prostitution.

And what I learnt is this. Grooming may be done in person or over the internet. The adult often spends many months establishing a relationship with the child (and if in person, with the child’s family). They often seek to ingratiate themselves to the child (and their family) with gifts and being especially attentive to the child. With teenagers they may say they can identify and sympathise with their problems. They will often seek time alone with the child, for example, offering to baby-sit a young child, or collect an older child after an evening out. Later in the grooming process they may start talking about sexual matters with the child or show the child pornographic pictures hoping to ‘normalise’ their behaviour before they start abusing the child so the child is less likely to tell.

They may use their professional position as a hold, for example, in the case of paedophile teachers and doctors. The child or young person feels overwhelmed and confused.

Sexual grooming on the internet has raised concerns that there aren’t enough safeguards in place, and the big social networking websites could do more to protect young people. Because of the anonymity the internet allows, abusers are able to pose as children or teenagers while they groom, and may then make arrangements to meet the victim in person. In some cases the groomer may already be known to the child or young person.

Groomers can be male or female of any age and even the same age as the victim. Many children and young people don't realise they are being groomed until it is too late, or that what has happened is abuse, perhaps believing the man is their ‘boyfriend’ – see the grooming of teenagers in Rochdale.

Grooming can affect any child but vulnerable children are more at risk. Groomers will exploit their vulnerability, for example, if a child is in care, by sympathising about the difficult life they’ve led. Once they have their trust they can isolate them from their friends and family so the child feels dependent on them. Groomers may share secrets as a way of controlling the child, or they may blackmail them and make them feel guilty and ashamed.

Signs of grooming aren't always obvious and in teenagers some of the behaviour could be seen as normal teenage behaviour. Signs include: sudden changes in behaviour, problems at school, drinking, smoking and drug-taking, no longer seeing old friends, secretiveness, associating with older boys and girls, unaccountable new things like clothes, handbags, phones etc. (Often bought by the groomer to help win over the child or young person).

Some years ago, before the implications of grooming were fully realised I fostered a 13-year-old girl who came from a very caring family but was groomed right under the eyes of her parents.

The Fostering Network’s produces two books, Safer Caring and Fostering in a Digital World, that give foster carers guidance for keeping children safe. If you as a foster carer have concerns about any of the children in your care, of course you must raise this with the child’s social worker and your own immediately.

Cathy x (www.cathyglass.co.uk)