From education to employment

New unit to tackle exploitation of vulnerable young people

A new national response unit will be established to help local authorities support vulnerable children at risk of exploitation by criminal gangs.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi announced today (28 August) the unit, backed by up to £2million investment, will offer bespoke support to local councils to help stop child sexual exploitation, trafficking, modern slavery and other attempts by criminals to take advantage of vulnerable children and coerce them into crimes like drug trafficking.

Children who go missing from home or care are vulnerable to exploitation from a range of criminal threats and the new national response unit to launch in 2019 will provide tailored support to local areas so they can respond effectively to these safeguarding challenges and learn from what works.

Last year’s figures from the National Crime Agency show that over a third (35 per cent) of police forces reported evidence of child sexual exploitation in relation to county lines. County lines is where children and young people are exploited by criminals and used to traffic drugs in rural areas.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said:

Exploitation of children in any form is an abhorrent crime and it is deeply saddening that vulnerable children and young people are prey to criminals.

They are often at risk of multiple threats outside of their family lives, such as child sexual exploitation, gangs and county lines, and the new national unit will help local areas protect them from these threats and get the right support so they have the chance to succeed in life.

The new unit, which will operate from 2019 up until 2022, will address child sexual exploitation together with other crimes, such as gang and drug activity, which also exploit vulnerable children and can lead to children going missing.

The Department for Education will award a contract to run the new national response unit to support local practitioners to respond to these threats more effectively, which could include:

  • providing advice and directing authorities to resources;
  • an online forum for professionals;
  • additional staff with experience in tackling particular areas of exploitation; and
  • assessing an area’s needs, strengths and weaknesses in responding to exploitation threats.

This follows the Home Office’s announcement that it is awarding £13m through the Trusted Relationships Fund to 11 local authorities across England to help young people at risk of abuse to foster ‘trusted’ relationships with support workers.

These projects will help young people have positive adult role models in their lives, following a review by the Early Intervention Foundation, commissioned by the Home Office, that showed that a lack of a dependable adult was often an important factor in child abuse and exploitation cases.

Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins, said:

This Government is committed to protecting children from all forms of exploitation and abuse, be it from county lines, gang activity or sexual abuse.

This new unit, along with our £13million Trusted Relationships Fund and the Serious Violence Strategy, will provide vital support to children and help steer them away from destructive harms.

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