SPECIAL REPORT: The misery of Wigan's missing and exploited children
Reports of child sexual exploitation and missing youngsters in Wigan borough have soared in the past two years.
Concerning figures released by the town hall show that 439 calls were made regarding children at risk of sexual exploitation (CSE) a huge jump from the 135 made two years ago.
More than 1,000 episodes of children missing from home or care were also reported last year: a 33 per cent increase in two years.
The data, presented in a council committee meeting, revealed that in 2016/17, 1,090 reports were made of a missing child compared to 776 in 2014/15.
The figures differ dramatically from data released by Greater Manchester Police just weeks ago, showing that the number of episodes of missing youngsters made to them are as high as 1,623.
Wigan Council has reassured residents that the figures do not necessarily reflect an increase in missing children or CSE, but that they are the product of more robust measures to safeguard children.
Prof Paul Kingston, chair of the Wigan Safeguarding Children Board, said: “An increase in communication and engagement from Wigan Safeguarding Children Board, supported by partners, along with more public understanding of why children go missing has created greater awareness around children’s safeguarding and related issues such as child sexual exploitation.
“This has led to an increase in the reporting of missing children which has allowed us to intervene early and provide an appropriate response with the aim of reducing the number of children in the Wigan borough who are at risk of going missing.
“The safety of missing children is of paramount importance to the WSCB and all partners work together to ensure that not only are all they brought home safely but that interventions are put in place to avoid repeated episodes.”
Sexual exploitation of children is a type of sexual abuse and includes any behaviour designed to coerce a child into engaging in sexual behaviour such as grooming or online exploitation.
The report presented in the children and young people’s scrutiny committee outlines how the council has been developing services to protect children at risk of CSE and missing children and teens.
Specific roles have been created within the town hall to deal with safeguarding children against these specific risks and the council has commissioned charity “The Children’s Society” to respond to reports of missing children.
As part of the new developments the council has “improved reporting facilities, “increased community awareness”, developed a missing hub and updated its policy and procedure surrounding missing children.
In a recent inspection of children’s social care services, Ofsted said: “The response to children missing from care and/or at risk of child sexual exploitation is generally well managed and coordinated by the child sexual exploitation team, with strategy meetings being convened when concerns escalate.”
The council website gives advice on how to report a child missing and what to expect at each stage of the process of finding a young person, including before and after police are contacted.
For advice on reporting concerns regarding a child’s welfare in Wigan borough visit: www.wigan.gov.uk/WSCB or call 01942 828300.