Hundreds of Wigan children exploited by criminals

Hundreds of young people have been involved in child sexual and criminal exploitation in Wigan over the last 12 months, according to a council report.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 3:45 pm

Wigan’s complex safeguarding team has directly dealt with 346 young people over the last year – the second highest number in all of Greater Manchester.

And that number could actually be higher after a town hall chief said that the data gathering system for this kind of information wasn’t sophisticated enough.

In total, 193 of those 346 cases were related to child sexual exploitation, 100 were related to child criminal exploitation and there were 34 cases involving both.

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Wigan’s child exploitation figures may be even worse than the official figures suggest

A further 10 young people were found to be living within families issued with Threats to Life Notices, which are incidents whereby someone’s life is in real and immediate danger due to their associations with organised crime.

The team directly intervened in three homicide cases involving young people.

There were also three young people subject to forced marriage, two cases of female genital mutilation and one young person involved in radicalisation.

Wigan Council referred 16 young people to the Home Office as potential victims of modern slavery to ensure they receive the appropriate support.

The figures revealed to the children and young people scrutiny committee earlier this month were described by councillors as “shocking” and “depressing”.

But authority bosses say they do not know whether or not there has been an increase in the number of cases as this data has only just been developed.

Director of children’s service, Colette Dutton, told the committee there will be a new framework for collating data which will be complete by the summer.

However, she said the current systems used by the council, police and their partners are “not sophisticated enough” so the team is having to “do it by hand”.

She said: “Exploitation remains one our main priorities for the safeguarding partnership. Work has continued – albeit online and certainly not with quite the same reach and maybe not the same impact as we’ve managed to have before – but it remains one of our priorities.

“As things start to open up, we’ll be looking at more creative ways of doing that as well.”

Online child sexual exploitation increased during the first part of the pandemic.

This is thought to be down to homeschooling being less structured in the first national lockdown which meant children spent more time online unsupervised.

By January, when schools closed in the third national lockdown, home learning was more structured and more vulnerable children continued to go into school.

Wendy Monnelly, interim lead for front door services at Wigan Council, told the scrutiny committee that the local figures are reflective of the national picture.

She told the committee that Covid has not deterred the complex safeguarding team from responding ‘effectively’ to the risks which children are exposed to.

She said: “Direct work has continued throughout lockdown with a combination of face-to-face work and online interventions and we believe we’ve been able to offer interventions which meets children’s and young people’s needs.

Complex safeguarding is used to describe criminal activity, often organised, or behaviour associated to criminality, often involving vulnerable children and young people where there is exploitation occuring or a safeguarding concern.

The complex safeguarding team based at Wigan police station includes professionals from social care, the early help service, Greater Manchester Police, health, youth justice, the missing from home hub and others.

Since lockdown, a psychologist also works on a part-time basis with the team.

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