Charity receives £2.5m lottery funding to support victims of child exploitation and their parents

Victims of child exploitation and their parents will get vital support from a charity after it received lottery funding.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 4:55 am

The Children's Society wants to help more than 250 youngsters and 270 parents or carers across Greater Manchester, Birmingham and London through its flagship Disrupting Exploitation programme by 2024.

Latest figures show that from January 2020 to June 2021 there were 363 children in the Greater Manchester Police force area referred to the National Referral Mechanism – the system for identifying victims of modern slavery and trafficking – due to concerns they were being exploited.

Figures for referrals of children to social care in Greater Manchester indicate a rise in cases, which may suggest children are being criminally exploited.

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They show the number in which "gangs" were identified as a factor at the end of assessments more than doubled from 484 in 2017/18 to 1,022 in 2019/20, while the number in which trafficking was identified doubled from 85 to 178.

There was a 26 per cent rise in cases in which children going missing was flagged, from 1,215 to 1,533.

The £2.5m from the National Lottery Community Fund will enable the programme to continue its ground-breaking "systems change" work to disrupt all types of child exploitation.

The Children’s Society works with organisations like police and social care to reform the way they respond to criminal, sexual and labour exploitation and support young victims.

It also works with these agencies – sometimes in the same premises – as well as with schools, businesses, and community groups, to train staff to spot signs of exploitation, change ways of working and help them make public spaces safer for young people.

Staff share resources with partners and join multi-agency meetings, highlighting the importance of seeing these young people as victims who need support and sharing information about risks to children and exploitation hotspots.

Lucy Dacey, Disrupting Exploitation programme manager at The Children’s Society, said: “This welcome funding will enable us to offer vital support to many more children at risk of being criminally exploited, be it into county lines drug dealing or to commit other offences like holding weapons, inflicting violence or robbery.

“This help is more important than ever right now, with predators trying to take advantage of children following successive lockdowns which have left many feeling isolated, struggling with their mental health and worried about everything from Covid to family finances.

“But as well as supporting young people in this position, our programme enables us to continue to equip our partners to protect children in the future by changing their policies, making public spaces safer and seizing every opportunity to identify risks of exploitation, ensure victims get support and disrupt the criminals grooming them.

“Every time a vulnerable child is arrested, at risk of being excluded from school or assessed by social care, it could be a golden opportunity to identify exploitation and protect a young person.”

Since starting phase one of The Children’s Society’s work on disrupting exploitation three years ago, the charity has worked with nearly 200 young people who were at risk of exploitation or who were already being criminally exploited across Greater Manchester, London and Birmingham.

Young people are groomed with offers of friendship, cash, gifts, drugs and alcohol but then coerced into crimes like carrying drugs across the country in county lines operations with terrifying threats and violence.

Practitioners from The Children’s Society offer one-to-one and group work to help them understand grooming and exploitation and support them to stay safe.

Disrupting Exploitation has also secured additional funding to support almost 50 parents or carers of children who were being exploited. Its parent workers help parents understand exploitation and to cope with the worry, stress and powerlessness they may be feeling, helping them become part of a support network around their child.

The programme has reached more than 19,000 professionals focusing on achieving systems change at three important moments – the point a child is excluded from school, the point they are arrested and the point they are assessed by social care.

More than a third of young people supported by the programme had been excluded or attended a pupil referral unit and staff found this made them more likely to be targeted by and vulnerable to perpetrators looking to groom them.

They listened to young people’s experiences and trained school staff and supported headteachers to amend policies to better understand the root causes of children’s behaviour and get them help where they needed it rather than rushing to exclude them.

In Greater Manchester, staff joined community safety meetings to advise on disrupting child exploitation and encourage a wider range of professionals to attend.

John Mothersole, chairman of England funding committee at the National Lottery Community Fund, said: “The pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives of young people and has heightened the risk of exploitation for some of the most vulnerable. Thanks to National Lottery players, we’re able to do our bit by continuing to support this charity’s great efforts to reach even more children.”

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