The powerful experiences of North Yorkshire families, children and young people who have experienced child exploitation are helping inform an online resource to raise awareness of the crime and prevent others falling victim to abuse.
Be Aware is an online knowledge hub created by North Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Partnership (NYSCP) to prevent and tackle child exploitation. The knowledge hub is already used by professionals across North Yorkshire, but the partnership also wants Be Aware to become a source of information and guidance for everyone in North Yorkshire, including parents, carers and children and young people.
As part of this, work is ongoing to find out what messages and advice families would like to pass on to other families, to prevent children and young people becoming targeted by the exploitative tactics of criminals.
This, and other information from professional safeguarding organisations, will be added to the Be Aware knowledge hub, so that it provides clear advice to residents in North Yorkshire about where they should turn to if they are worried.
The partnership is made up of ourselves, North Yorkshire Police and NHS North Yorkshire Clinical Commission Group (CCG.)
Maggie Atkinson, Chair of North Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Partnership and Independent Scrutineer said: “Despite North Yorkshire being a low crime, largely rural county, criminal and sexual exploitation of children happens here too.
“The partnership is currently consulting and speaking with a wide range of people, including young people who have powerful experiences they want to share to help others spot the dangers and raise awareness. This is in addition to partners working to identify potential perpetrators and working with law enforcement agencies to take action to address this aspect of child abuse.
“We are developing Be Aware together so that people can spot the warning signs and know where to turn to if they have any concerns.”
Safeguarding professionals have worked with families, children and young people with lived experience of child exploitation to pinpoint the kind of information which would be helpful on the hub.
One family member, whose child was the victim of exploitation, said: “We all need to be aware of child exploitation because all children are vulnerable simply because they are children and perpetrators are exceptionally gifted at understanding just what it is that a child needs or wants at that particular time.
“The perpetrators will use that knowledge to gain trust and friendship. Then they manipulate, control and coerce until they are exploited in whatever way chosen.
“This must stop and one way to do this is by educating all and offering a real understanding of what it is and how it effects all. From victim blaming to parental blaming – that is not okay and more education around this must take place. We must ensure our children are protected.”
March 18 is Child Exploitation Awareness Day, which aims to highlight the issues surrounding child exploitation (CE); encouraging everyone to think, spot and speak out against abuse. The campaign calls for everyone to take a zero-tolerance approach to Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Criminal Exploitation.
The new and improved Be Aware knowledge hub will help people know how to spot the warning signs, where they can access support, ways to keep safe and how to report any concerns about possible exploitation.
Over the February half-term holiday, workshops were held in conjunction with local youth groups facilitated by Inspire Youth. The workshops were held for young people aged 11-plus and looked at the kind of content which could be used on the Be Aware hub which they thought other young people would find useful, as well as how the information could be presented to engage with children and young people.
Kathryn Morrison, NYSCP Policy and Development Officer said: “Criminal exploitation of children and young people is an issue nationally and is happening in North Yorkshire too. It can take many forms, the most common relating to the supply and movement of drugs, often referred to as County Lines.
“We’re working alongside partners, professionals, parents, carers and young people in North Yorkshire to make sure Be Aware is shaped by real people’s experiences of exploitation.
“The new and improved Be Aware online knowledge hub will help people know how to spot the warning signs, where they can access support, ways to keep safe and how to report any concerns about possible exploitation.”
When a child or young person is exploited, they are groomed by being given gifts, drugs, money, status or affection. This is usually in exchange for carrying out a criminal activity, known as Child Criminal Exploitation, or performing sexual activities, known as Child Sexual Exploitation. Sometimes it involves children being trafficked to areas both in and out of North Yorkshire, to take part in criminal or sexual activities. This can even include the movement of young people from one street to another.
Access the Be Aware hub with the updated site due to launch early Summer 2022.