Specialist child exploitation charity Safe and Sound has expanded its work over the past year to provide a lifeline of emotional and practical support to some of the most vulnerable children, young people and their families across Derbyshire.

The charity’s annual performance report has been published this week ahead of National Child Exploitation Awareness Day (Thursday March 18) and highlights the impact of the pandemic on its work.

Safe and Sound is part of the NWG national network which spearheads the awareness-raising day every year and #CEADay21 aims to highlight the rising tide of child exploitation including sexual exploitation, coercion to run drugs through County Lines, trafficking and modern slavery.

Safe and Sound’s workload has increased by 50% since the first lockdown with 150 boys and girls aged as young as seven who are victims of or at increased risk of child exploitation receiving one to one and group support.

Thanks to successful funding bids and the generosity of local businesses, groups and individuals, the team has expanded to provide specialist support to children and young people who have learning difficulties and disabilities. 

Around 30% of the young people supported in the past year have identified special educational needs – increasing their vulnerabilities to grooming and exploitation and the charity has worked in partnership with a number of specialist support schools, charities and other youth organisations to support their young people.

Safe and Sound’s new family support workers have also helped 21 local families.  

This expansion is in recognition of the effect of exploitation on the wider family and that circumstances at home can sometimes make young people more vulnerable to being targeted by perpetrators both online and in person.

Families supported are from a wide cross-section of local communities particularly in Derby city, Erewash and South Derbyshire including new and emerging communities such as those with a Roma heritage.

As well as one to one and group support, a key objective for Safe and Sound has continued to be to raise awareness across Derbyshire of the dangers of exploitation facing young people including sexual, drug lines, modern slavery, trafficking and radicalisation.

Most of the education and awareness workshops have had to be delivered virtually but engagement has included the online chat facility on the charity’s new website www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk and through presentations with parents, professionals and young people.

In addition, Safe and Sound will be holding a number of online awareness-raising events on Thursday, March 18th to mark National Child Exploitation Awareness Day.

This will include members of its parents peer support group discussing the role of the police with a senior officer, a live web chat facility manned throughout the day and online awareness sessions with different groups of young people.

Last summer Safe and Sound returned to its grassroots ethos and introduced an outreach programme.  Between June and December 2020, young and support workers engaged with 746 children and young people.  

On nine occasions, they shared information and intelligence with partner agencies leading to a police investigation into County Lines and action taken on three safeguarding issues.

Safe and Sound CEO Tracy Harrison explained: “As Covid-19 developed, the risk of child exploitation had never been greater with children not in school, changes to their routine, increased stress and isolation.

“Our immediate concerns were that young people were more vulnerable to online grooming due to them spending more time on social media and games channels.

“We reviewed our work to ensure we could respond effectively despite the restrictions on interaction and recruited new staff to meet the increased demand.

“As well as working with young people to prevent and protect them from exploitation, we have helped them with wider issues such as wellbeing and mental health, bereavement and schoolwork – including providing laptops, tablets and internet support.

“Children and young people with special educational needs are not only more vulnerable to grooming but many have also struggled to understand the changes to their routine caused by the pandemic.

“Our new specialist support worker has therefore successfully developed an adapted support programme for young people and their families.  

“She has received fantastic feedback from the families and partner schools and disability groups and we know our work is making a difference in protecting young people from serious harm.

“I am particularly proud of the additional support we have been able to provide to the wider families of young people referred to us as at risk of exploitation.

“This support ranges from help with housing and access to foodbanks to ease the additional strains on family relationships to helping families whose first language is not English to understand the help available to them during the pandemic.

“In conclusion, we cannot achieve what we do on our own and our collaborations and partnership working with other charities, organisations and statutory agencies has had a greater impact.

“I am extremely proud with how the whole team has worked proactively and collectively to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and ensure that children and young people receive the one to one and group support that they have desperately needed in these unprecedented times.”

To attend an awareness session on March 18th 2021 between 11 am -12 pm, please register your interest at [email protected]