We spoke with Shelley Shaw, Development and Impact Manager at Together for Childhood Plymouth, who joined the project in February 2018.
What inspired this project?
Six years ago, the NSPCC began thinking about how they could work in an alternative way to prevent child abuse and concluded that they wanted to test out a place-based approach. In practice, this means implementing tailored activities within one area so that the community can come together and create impact. By using this method, they facilitate conversation by reducing the taboo of the subject.
About Together for Childhood
“It’s about building the evidence base for what can work to prevent child sexual abuse”
The project began in 2018 and will be operational for 10 years. The current 10-year strategy is focused on prevention. Together for Childhood operates in Glasgow, Grimsby, Stoke-on-Trent and Plymouth.
The project has different focal points depending on the region. The focus for Stoke-on-Trent and Plymouth is the prevention of child sexual abuse. The focus for Glasgow and Grimsby is the early prevention of childhood adversity which includes domestic abuse and neglect.
There are a number of design principles behind the project, including one on continuous learning. This means as a development project, Together for Childhood uses rapid cycle testing of activities to find out which ones are having an impact. Evaluation is embedded in the activities to build an evidence base and they continuously share the learning from the process. Through an evaluation, during which they have tested and evaluated an activity and concluded that it is effective, the project works out how to implement this learning. It then returns to the governance group, who decide how to roll it out across the city.
Theory of Change
By developing a theory of change, the project’s long-term outcome is the prevention of child sexual abuse. The short-term outcomes include parents and carers feeling more confident to talk to their children about healthy relationships, amongst others.
The project in Plymouth employs a theoretical framework by Professor Stephen Smallbone which takes a public health approach. It recognises the need to create primary, secondary and tertiary preventions by working with four different intervention groups. These include (1) children who could potentially be harmed or have been harmed; (2) people who (may) harm; (3) the ecosystem around children such as the workforce, parents and carers and community members; and (4) the situation (places and contextual safeguarding).
The project in Plymouth is mapped across this whole matrix and all of the activities within these intervention groups collectively contribute to making children safer. Traditionally, projects consist of one activity. For example, going into a school and delivering an educational session, which on its own may have limited impact. However, an even greater impact can be had when combining this activity with others, such as: enabling parents and carers to feel more confident talking about such topics, teachers role modelling healthy relationships and challenging inappropriate language at school, and so on. As practice and lived experience are critical for creating change, the NSPCC seeks to co-create ideas and activities with children, parents and carers. This process is just as important as the product itself.
Plymouth has four work streams:
1. HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS FOR LIFE
This consists of quality-assured relationships and sex education across various activities. One project, Young Voices, has been tested for three years and uses a whole-school approach to prevent peer-to-peer sexual harm in schools. Campaigns developed by young people, as well as youth workers delivering sessions in schools, launched in October 2022.
As part of Young Voices, the team delivered a session in a school where the students wanted to better understand consent. The session aimed to build self-efficacy, confidence and self-esteem. The students developed a mural based on consent which was converted into jigsaw puzzles and bags. Further, the young people involved in campaign development have the opportunity to become a part of a young advisory group, meaning they will be able to shape projects and lead them.
Examples of other activities include:
- NSPCC PANTS campaign: A guide for parents detailing how to have a simple conversation with their child to help keep them safe from sexual abuse.
- Antenatal safety planning: This includes the role of fathers in safeguarding and how we can add simple messages to existing activity, such as talking about who should change a baby’s nappy and where.
2. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
This stream is mostly funded by the National Lottery. Projects include:
- Community potential: The team selected a neighbourhood due to its strong sense of community cohesion (they planned many events such as summer and Christmas fairs and Halloween parties, etc.) They have been working within this neighbourhood for four years and have added value to their community by embedding safeguarding processes and curiosity to existing activity.
- Workforce development: The NSPCC developed a two-hour overview session on sexual abuse for workforces. It outlines signs and symptoms, as well as theory using Finkelhor’s model which highlights that there are opportunities to intervene and stop children from being harmed. Every member of staff working in the selected neighbourhood has completed this training.
3. PREVENTING SEXUAL HARM
This stream is centred on recognising that individuals who (may) harm also need support. It focusses on understanding what leads people to causing harm in order to identify opportunities for prevention, especially in interfamilial cases:
- Support for children: This includes identifying children and young people that are displaying developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviour who can be provided with an assessment, support and treatment. Together for Childhood is currently testing a single route for referrals and support to make the pathway easier for people to understand.
- A helpline: In February 2022, the NSPCC collaborated with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. Stop It Now Campaign, which is a confidential helpline for people worried about their sexual thoughts or behaviours. Reducing taboo on the subject enables people with these thoughts and who do not want to act on them to call in and seek help. They require adequate support as there may be risk factors such as being isolated, poor mental health and lack of social life. The NSPCC conducted a campaign across the city in February to raise awareness of the helpline and as a result, Plymouth was the second highest area contacting the helpline after London.
4. A TRAUMA-INFORMED SYSTEM
This stream is aimed towards Plymouth becoming a more trauma-informed city. This is achieved by increasing understanding about the impact of trauma such as sexual abuse. Additionally, its ambition is to always have support available to children and families at the right place, at the right time. Sufficient, evidence-based therapeutic support is essential to enable children to recover and rebuild their lives after abuse.
The project will continue trying and testing out activities until 2028. The learning developed and evidence base created will support national thinking and approaches about how we can prevent child sexual abuse nationally.
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Case study by Maysa Clam and Isabella Anderson, 2022