The full impact of the pandemic lockdown on young people’s safety and mental well-being will not be truly revealed until young people return to school, according to the chief executive of specialist child exploitation charity Safe and Sound.
Safe and Sound supports children and young people across Derbyshire who are victims of or at risk of child exploitation including sexual, County Lines, Modern Slavery and trafficking and their families.
Over the past few weeks, the charity has directly supported 42 local young people who are aged seven to 18 either virtually or at a safe distance in schools with particularly vulnerable young people.
The particular concern for support workers during the pandemic lockdown has been the danger of online grooming and unhealthy relationships with young people spending more time on social media and gaming channels.
They have also helped many more families with wider issues around mental well-being and practical issues such as food poverty.
Safe and Sound CEO Tracy Harrison explained: “Although we have adapted our support services during these difficult times, we will only fully know the scale of the impact when children are back in school – doing other activities or back with their friends.
“This is when they feel more comfortable to talk about what they have been experiencing so that we can properly assess the support needed moving forwards.”
She continued: “During lockdown, the factors that have been triggers for exploitation have been higher than ever. Children have been isolated, confused and have had more to spend online.
“A focus of our work has therefore been to ensure that young people have the privacy setting in place and the awareness of the dangers of online grooming.
“We have had a greater number of requests from fellow professionals such as teachers and social workers recently to support boys and young people with special educational needs.
“And we know that many young people have faced other issues within the family such as domestic violence financial poverty and alcohol abuse.
“Young people in new and emerging communities such as Roma families in the city that our multi-lingual worker has supported have faced even greater pressures and anxieties due to language barriers and a lack of understanding about organisations who can help them.”
To meet the increased demand for support, Safe and Sound is forging ahead with its plans to expand its team and the support available with the imminent appointment of a family support worker and an education worker with a specific focus on young people with special educational needs, disability and hard to reach groups.
Mrs Harrison concluded: “As we start to move out of lockdown with greater social interaction, the need for support for young people and their families will be greater than ever.
“Young people will be desperate to spread their wings and this makes them particularly vulnerable to manipulation whether that is at the hands of sexual predators or drug dealers.
“There is the added danger that unhealthy relationships developed online may now lead to physical contact and we are working closely with our partner organisations to be vigilant to those who are vulnerable to such criminal exploitation.”
For more information about Safe and Sound and how to support the charity’s work, please visit www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk and follow on social media channels.
Media enquiries: Sarah Jenkin-Jones, JJPR, Tel: 01332 515102/07951 945665; [email protected]
About Safe and Sound
Formed in 2002, Safe and Sound is an inspiring Derbyshire charity that transforms young lives affected by child exploitation with innovative, hands-on programmes.
The charity works at grass root levels delivering individual support to each child as well as families and carers. This vital support enables them to move not just to a place of safety, but emerge unshackled and undefined by their experience and enabled to reach their full potential.
The charity continues to specialise in child sexual exploitation and is now developing its services to support children and young people facing or at risk of wider exploitation which are often interlinked. These include physical and emotional violence, neglect, modern day slavery, radicalisation and human trafficking, domestic abuse, missing episodes and County Lines.
Safe and Sound is led by former police superintendent Tracy Harrison with the support of a specialist team; an experience board of Trustees and now a team of Ambassadors who are helping to raise the profile of the charity and the issue of child exploitation.
Safe and Sound’s expertise came to the fore during the 2010 landmark case – Operation Retriever – which was Derby’s first prosecution for child sexual exploitation and abuse. The charity’s specialist team supported every young person affected by the criminal actions of 13 defendants who were jailed in total for up to 22 years for 70 offences.
For more information about child exploitation, Safe and Sound Derby and how to support their work, please visit www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk