WIGAN health chiefs have re-doubled their efforts in a bid to stop vulnerable children falling into the clutches of sexual predators.
Senior figures at Wigan and Leigh Safeguarding Children Board (WSCB) have spoken exclusively to the Wigan Evening Post outlining their approach in the wake of the Rochdale grooming scandal.
MPs reported that councils such as Rochdale and Rotheram were found to be “inexcusably slow” to recognise the widespread organised sexual abuse of children by gangs of Asian men.
However, Kath Vereycken, business manager at WSCB, believes the approach in Wigan will prevent similar failings occurring.
She said: “Abuse can have such a damaging effect on a child which can last a lifetime
“There are many young people within the borough who are being abused everyday and here at the board we aim to look for the signs and help the child from an early stage before it spirals out of control. Working together is the key to cutting down on this form of abuse.”
One key employee within the safeguarding team is specialist nurse Carlene Baines of Bridgewater NHS Trust. She plays an integral part of the multi-agency response to sexual exploitation.
She said: “I ensure that the young person’s health needs are met either by direct intervention, such as education around sex and relationships, counselling, contraceptive and sexual health services and GPs.
“I feel the biggest part of my role is to engage with young people to establish a relationship that demonstrates that professionals want to safeguard and support them.
“We do this by providing constant reassurance that they are a victim and not to be blamed for the actions of the perpetrator.”
They also warn parents and teachers to look out for signs young people are being sexually exploited, such as when they go missing from home.
This can be staying out overnight without permission, returning later than their curfew or parents or carers not having knowledge of their exact whereabouts.
“An increase in ‘missing’ episodes will often escalate our concerns,” says Kath.
“A change in the young person’s behaviour and appearance is often noted, this can range from weight loss, appearing unkempt and tired, episodes of self-harm, presenting under the influence of drugs and alcohol, aggression, mood-swings and low self-esteem.”
However, the opposite presentation may be the case in the early stages of child exploitation, Kath warns, with young people returning home with new clothes, make-up and appearing well cared for despite being absent.
Kath added: “Often we are able to identify signs of control by the perpetrator such as young people always having access to a mobile phone with credit, children skipping school, isolation and withdrawal from their friends and activities that they would normally be involved in at that age.
“It is important to remember, however, that young people may display some of the above behaviours without being exploited such as being moody, angry and secretive.
“We do however recognise that the more risk indicators that are present, the higher the risk of child sexual exploitation.”