Falkirk district’s two SNP MSPs have called on Falkirk Council not to continue with their plan to ditch core funding for Open Secret, a Falkirk-based charity and community based organisation which provides invaluable confidential support to individuals and families whose lives have been impacted by childhood abuse or trauma.
The MSPs, Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) and Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) are fearful that without the core funding provided by Falkirk Council the charity will be forced to close.
Their call comes following a 10 month inquiry and publication of a report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Scotland conducted by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee which Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald serves on.
The report raised concerns regarding the “hidden problem” of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and highlighted that research is needed to reveal the scale of the problem. It also recommended that education programmes showing young people how to recognise and challenge sexual exploitation and bullying need to be made available across all communities in Scotland. The Falkirk district MSPs believe that if Open Secret is properly funded it can play a significant role locally in implementing these recommendations.
Commenting on the threat to Open Secret’s core funding, Angus MacDonald MSP said:
“I am extremely concerned by the threat to Open Secret’s core funding from Falkirk Council. At a time when the Scottish Parliament is calling for higher priority to addressing childhood sexual abuse in general we find Falkirk Council considering cutting back on a much needed service. The hidden problem of CSE is not going to go away anytime soon and we need to ensure this evil is dealt with by everyone working together, not sweeping it under the carpet and hoping it will just disappear. It is imperative that Falkirk Council continue to core fund this service.
“Following the lengthy 10 month inquiry my Public Petitions committee issued its report into tackling CSE in Scotland, highlighting that research is needed to reveal the scale of the problem. It also recommends that education programmes showing young people how to recognise and challenge sexual exploitation and bullying need to be made available across all communities in Scotland. I am sure that if Open Secret is properly funded it can play a significant role locally in implementing these recommendations.
“Parliament as well as national and local Government will fail the people of Falkirk district and Scotland if the hidden problem of CSE is not properly tackled with a clear strategy. If my committee’s report and resultant action by the Government and associated agencies help just one child to avoid the effects of CSE, that will be a job well done, but we should not stop until the nightmare has been eradicated.
“I fear that if Falkirk Council continue along the route of scrapping core funding for this invaluable group who provide a service in Falkirk district and Forth Valley, which I believe is second to none, we will see the end of an organisation which has 20 years’ experience in an area of service in which demand unfortunately looks set to increase.”
Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson said:
“I have already written to Falkirk Council and met with representatives of Open Secret on this matter and I am extremely disturbed that their funding is under threat, given Falkirk Council’s underspend on 2013/14 budget.
“Open Secret carry out an extremely valuable role in our community to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It is incumbent on Falkirk Council to resist any cuts to it’s core funding, the result of which will severely damage it’s ability to carry out its functions.
“In addition to their 20 years’ experience it must be borne in mind that the core posts at Open Secret allow the organisation to recruit, train and support 35 volunteers enabling them to see over 300 clients per annum through the core funding alone.
“I would call on Falkirk Council to think again in considering scrapping core funding and to work with Open Secret to find ways of improving this service, not threaten its very existence”
Both MSPs have written to Falkirk Council raising their concerns. The MSPs are concerned that there is a very real danger that CSE will continue to be a hidden problem in Scotland, and Falkirk district, which is why further research must be carried out to establish the scale of the problem and how best to shape services to address it.
During the course of the inquiry, the Public Petitions Committee heard that there are a number of complexities around this issue such as a lack of understanding of what CSE is, young people not recognising themselves as victims, assumptions being made about the behaviours of young people and increased, more sophisticated use of technology and the normalising of sexual and intimate relationships.
Other recommendations in the report include:
- Refuges for young people experiencing or at risk of CSE need to be established. Consideration should be given to placing a relevant duty on all local authorities in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill.
- Social work and other child protection services should give higher priority to addressing childhood sexual abuse in general, and other vulnerabilities in younger children, such as neglect, which may put them at particular risk of CSE.
- The Scottish Government should give high priority to ensuring that high-quality data collection tools, to provide vital information on the prevalence and nature of CSE in Scotland, are identified, standardised and rolled out across Scotland.
- The Scottish Government, Police Scotland and all key agencies should adopt a high commitment to disrupting perpetrator activity and identifying those at risk.
- Post-legislative scrutiny of the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005 should be undertaken to ensure that the intention of this legislation is being delivered and that all possible perpetrators of CSE crimes are being prosecuted.
- Risk of sexual harm orders (RSHOs) should be used in a much more comprehensive way for the protection of young people in Scotland.
- Mandatory training should be given for frontline and specialist police officers on the legislative options available to them disrupt perpetrators of CSE.
The MSPs also highlighted that Open Secret recently won a GlaxoSmithKlein (GSK) IMPACT award, having been chosen from 400 charities nationwide that applied to be part of GSK’s flagship UK community investment programme which resulted in an award of £30,000 that it will receive in unrestricted funding. While this funding is clearly welcome it is a “one-off” and cannot be relied upon in future years, however it is noteable that the organisation’s good work has been recognised at such a national level against significant competition.