Now CEO of the NWG National Exploitation Response Unit, Sheila explains the background behind the establishment of Safe and Sound which continues to broaden its work at grassroots level across Derbyshire to support children and young people who are victims of or at risk of child exploitation and their families.

Sheila Taylor MBE was the driving force behind the launch of Safe and Sound.  Now CEO of the NWG National Exploitation Response Unit, Sheila explains the background behind the establishment of Safe and Sound which continues to broaden its work at grassroots level across Derbyshire to support children and young people who are victims of or at risk of child exploitation and their families.

In 1998 I became aware of a number of young people being exploited for sex within Derby city, at the time I was a volunteer with the Prince’s Trust in Derbyshire.  Diane Marriot, part of Derby City Youth Service advocated support for these young people. A particular Mum, who was so proactive in seeking support for these young people, wanted them to be seen as victims and not children who were making a choice about how they behaved was a very powerful driver for the course of actions taken over the years.  A project was developed called The Edge project and a Manager appointed, Claire Dawson in 1999.

Through their service and with pump-priming funds from the Prince’s Trust, a grant from Children in Need was obtained and the work began.  Initially seeing a few young people up to the age of 26 yrs. Each year finding more and more young people who needed support, referrals began coming from other agencies and so The Edge grew.

As understanding grew, and the depth of the issues gained clarity it became clear that certain independence was required to ensure services within local authorities could be challenged on their responses. Always difficult when you are part of the system and hierarchy that goes with that.

Slowly over time the charity Safe & Sound began to form and was constituted 8th April 2002, originally as a ‘friends of the Edge’ organisation. However, as a registered charity they found it easier to attract funding through grants and trusts. Eventually, the charity became the dominating partner, employing more members of staff, and hosting many of the costs.

In 2005 I became the CEO for the Safe & Sound charity and the Youth Services seconded staff to the charity. As the work became indepth it was obvious that a different service was required for the older young people within our project. Safe & Sound supported the development of Women’s Work and that is an award winning, well-respected organisation in Derby run by Dionne Reid.

Its amazing over the time, that Safe & Sound lead the way in so many ways. Although there were other projects doing exceptionally strong pieces of work across the country, the issue of child sexual exploitation was not fully understood, the impact no considered and responses not adequate locally.

Being pivotal to collating all the soft intelligence from over 81 cases, identifying the numbers of allegations and creating a strong base of information gave the charity the strength to present their concerns in a new method. In a way that police could eventually understand that this was a serious crime, that young people were being coerced and controlled and that responses needed to be more robust.

Peter Goodman, now Chief Constable of Derbyshire Police, but then Assistant Chief Constable began to understand the scale, gave us time to explain the issues, took the challenges on board and created a team that gave the concerns we had for young people in Derby the attention they deserved.

I had the pleasure of working very closely with Superintendent Debbie Platt and DCI Rachel Walker, together we built the understanding of child sexual exploitation, explored the challenges of information sharing and watched as the team overlaid their information with the information we had been able to share.  It showed a whole network of contacts across alleged offenders and young people. Too big to manage in one case, so sectioned off, first came Operation Ambit, a victimless prosecution, followed by Operation Retriever.

This operation hit the news headlines for weeks, a court case covering three different trials, eventually seeing 9 men convicted for the systematic rape of young people.  This court case was a success due to the bravery of some many young people. For this bit, I do not know how to describe those exceptional individuals, the anxiety and trauma of the investigation, the anticipation of the court cases, the concerns of revenge being taken, giving evidence was an incredible commitment from them.  I still am in awe of their bravery and of all young people who experience this trauma.

Operation Retriever, changed the way the society viewed sexual exploitation and sparked other police forces to look at their own responses to young people, an approach from Rochdale to look at their approach led to Operation Span which galvanised the government response to the concerns.

Today that platform is unrecognisable to the one we had in 1998, we see sexual exploitation projects across the country, we’ve watch the progression to ensure that all forms of exploitation are seen in cases, firstly the use of the Human Trafficking legislation and latterly the links to modern slavery and in particular county lines.

Transforming Young Lives……..Eighteen years since its inception Safe and Sound has sustained its presence and reputation in Derbyshire and continues to support children and young people working one to one and in groups with young people vulnerable to child sexual exploitation and wider exploitation, such as criminal exploitation and radicalisation.  Their work and expertise with child sexual exploitation has identified that different forms of exploitation are inter-linked and that children and young people at risk of different forms of exploitation share the same vulnerabilities.   Safe and Sound take a new holistic approach to each vulnerable young person who is at risk of exploitation in any form, rather than dealing with the issues in different boxes.  Their youth and transition work helps young people move on to the next chapter in their lives.

Safe and Sound put the voice of the children and young people at the heart of what they do. They listen to them throughout their day-to-day activities, but also through participation groups. This influences how they and others locally and nationally respond to the growing risks of child exploitation.

I am so proud that today, Safe & Sound is still a strong project within the city of Derby, embracing the challenges faced by young people and ensuring our response to them are robust and protective.