Specialist Derbyshire charity Safe and Sound has expanded its weekly outreach programme into parts of Erewash and South Derbyshire in a bid to raise awareness of the support available to protect more young people from child exploitation.

Safe and Sound supports children and young people across Derbyshire who are victims of or at risk of child exploitation which includes online grooming sexual exploitation, County Lines, Modern Slavery and trafficking as well as supporting the wider families and raising awareness of the issues in local communities.

The charity’s expanded youth work team is now making weekly visits to various areas including Cotmanhay, Long Eaton Swadlincote, Woodville and Newhall – regularly engaging with up to 50 young people a night.

The key objective is to gather information and intelligence about suspected criminal activity, talk to young people about their experiences and provide support or signpost them to other organisations.

Safe and Sound is also keen to recruit volunteers with knowledge of the local areas to join the outreach programme.

Safe and Sound chief executive Tracy Harrison explained that the outreach programme had originally been piloted in Derby city – prompted by potential consequences of lockdown which had led to young people spending more time online and therefore being at greater risk of grooming which now leaves them vulnerable to in-person exploitation.

In the past year Safe and Sound has supported more than 150 young people and their families – compared with 100 during the whole of 2019.

The majority were victims of or at risk of online grooming and sexual exploitation but there has also been a greater incidence in concerns about trafficking and County Lines.

She said: “Children and young people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to online grooming and periods of lockdown heightened the risks as stress and isolation meant they were spending more time on social media and gaming sites.

“Many young people have also faced additional issues including increased financial pressures on families and heightened tensions at home which make they more susceptible to manipulative grooming from sexual predators and drugs gangs – both online and in person.

“Our focus from the start of the pandemic was to raise awareness of the importance of privacy settings and the dangers of unhealthy relationships.

“As young people have been able to spread their wings and return to meeting up together, we recognised the need to start the outreach programme to engage directly with young people and highlight the dangers they face at the hands of individuals and groups.”

The Safe and Sound outreach team is led by Volunteer Coordinators Mandy Trotman and Stephen Fairbrother.

Stephen is a retired Derbyshire Police Inspector who was previously in charge of policing in South Derbyshire.

He added: “We are returning to our role as a grassroots charity – visiting parks and particularly hot spots where we know from experience that young people tend to meet up and therefore attracts perpetrators who target them for their own criminal purposes.

“We want to reassure young people and their families that we are here to support them, engage them in our own youth activities or refer them to other organisations for help with other specific concerns and issues that they face.”

For more information about the work of Safe and Sound and ways to support the charity’s ongoing Butterfly Appeal, please visit https://www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk/ and anyone interested in applying to be a volunteer should email [email protected]