The Department for Education has launched a new programme designed to provide specialist support for children at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation.
The ‘Tackling Child Exploitation Support Programme’, announced today by education secretary Damian Hinds, aims to improve how different local areas respond to child exploitation.
The £2m programme will help equip professionals involved in safeguarding to identify those most at risk from gangs, ‘county lines’ drug dealing, online grooming, sexual exploitation, trafficking or modern slavery.
‘Being safe at school and having a stable home life is the best form of protection for the children as they grow up – but we know that those who are the most vulnerable, are the most at risk of exploitation of those who want to take advantage of them,’ said Mr Hinds.
‘We are all united in cracking down on those who try to lead vulnerable young people down a dangerous path, and the threats they face are multiple and complex.
‘We must make sure that we work together and this new approach to better support teachers, police and health professionals will improve the expertise and guidance available to all those who care for and educate young people.’
Responding to the announcement, Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘Effective multi-agency work is essential to tackle and prevent violent crime by young people and safeguard those exploited by criminal gangs for purposes of county lines drug dealing, online grooming and modern slavery.
‘This programme will help councils who are working hard with their partners to identify and protect children and young people at risk of abuse amid ongoing funding cuts and soaring demand for urgent child protection work.’
However, Cllr Blackburn also stressed that the Government should reverse cuts to children’s services.
‘Children’s services are now starting more than twice as many child protection investigations every day than they were 10 years ago,’ he said.
‘This demonstrates the increasing pressure that is forcing councils to divert funding away from preventative work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm.
‘To help stop young people being criminally exploited or groomed, and with children’s services facing a £3.1bn funding gap by 2025, it is vital that Government reverses years of funding cuts to local youth services, youth offending teams and councils’ public health budgets, which needs to be addressed in the Spending Review.’