Saving our children from abuse

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A WIGAN Council task force has received national praise for its work in keeping children safe from the misery of sexual exploitation.

A potent topic at present, given this week’s jailing for a total of 77 years of a group of men from Rochdale and Oldham for sexual grooming, it is an issue which Wigan has been tackling with some success.

The Shield team has been working for just over a year to combat this often “hidden crime’.” It works in partnership with a number of local agencies and has been so effective that it was recently recognised in children’s charity Barnardo’s Cut Them Free report.

Barnardo’s says that the commitment and support of the Shield team is helping to raise awareness about the issue and is helping to break the sinister cycle of children being groomed and then abused.

Wigan borough is sadly not immune to the scourge of child sexual exploitation and the Shield team was launched in late 2010 to combat an increase in the number of cases.

Working on behalf of the borough’s Safeguarding Children Board and alongside the police, Brook Advisory Service and Barnardo’s, Shield is proving to be making a real difference when it comes to protecting children and young people.

The team has been directly involved in investigating more than 20 cases of possible child sexual exploitation and is working to support the victims and bring those behind these crimes to justice.

Kath Vereycken, who leads on the strategy for the Wigan Safeguarding Children Board, said: “Child Sexual Exploitation can take many forms and all too often in the past it has gone undetected. It often stems from a young person’s lack of confidence or insecurity and frequently begins with them receiving attention from an older person. At first it may seem positive with the young person being given gifts and treated specially but really, they are being groomed.”

As a number of recent high-profile court cases in other areas have shown this can lead to the young person being given alcohol, drugs and sometimes a place to live in return for sexual activity.

Kath said: “We work with the police and other agencies not just to investigate alleged offences but we work proactively to identify ‘hotspots’ for this type of activity and raise awareness about the signs in a bid to prevent the abuse before it happens.”

Director for Barnardo’s North West, Mark Lee, said: “Child Sexual Exploitation is a form of child abuse. It is becoming ever more complex and pernicious but by working in partnership with local teams, as we do in Wigan, are able to more effectively break the cycle in which children are groomed, raped and abused.

“Barnardo’s is proud of the steps that we have taken along with our partners in Greater Manchester to help vulnerable children escape from a world of sexual exploitation, “added Mr Lee.

Barnado’s is calling on all local authorities to commit to tackling child sexual exploitation by signing up to their Cut Them Free campaign. So far, 96 out of 152 local authorities have signed up.

The charity campaigned for the appointment of a minister with responsibility for child sexual exploitation – Secretary of State for Education Tim Loughton was named as minister with responsibility in February 2011. It was also successful in campaigning for the Secretary of State for Education Tim Loughton to introduce a nation action plan to prevent child sexual exploitation. The plan was launched in November 2011.