Derbyshire’s specialist child exploitation charity, Safe and Sound, has marked its 20th anniversary with the launch of new therapy services to help children and young people regain their self-esteem and move forward positively with their lives.
Safe and Sound supports an increasing number of children, young people and their families whose lives have been affected by exploitation including online grooming, sexual exploitation, coercion to run drugs through County Lines, trafficking, modern slavery and radicalisation.
Last year the charity worked with 203 young people (compared with 150 the previous year) as well as 49 families whose children are being groomed and exploited.
As well as one to one and group support, positive activities and practical help, Safe and Sound is now offering innovative therapy services including person-centred creative art therapy.
Each young person will have six sessions designed to help them rediscover their confidence, re-establish their self worth and re-connect with those around them by formulating health relationships with other people.
Safe and Sound has launched an anniversary sponsorship programme to support this and other services for individuals and wider communities and a number of companies have already signed up.
These include Derbion shopping centre, BB&J commercial, Cosy Foundation, Invictus Communications, Wathall’s funeral directors, Butler’s Pantry, Rotary Club, and Creationz marketing.
Over the past 20 years, Safe and Sound has supported thousands of children aged as young as seven and young people who are victims of or at risk of exploitation.
The charity’s expertise particularly came to the fore during the 2010 landmark case – Operation Retriever – which was Derby’s first prosecution for child sexual exploitation and abuse. Safe and Sound’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.
Safe and Sound CEO Tracy Harrison explained: “Grooming and child exploitation has a devastating impact on young people’s lives and the therapeutic art process creates a non-judgmental environment encourages them to look upon themselves with empathy, compassion, and unconditional positive regard.
“It will be a valuable part of our 121 and group support and ensure our young people feel valued, heard and respected as part of their recovery.
“Finding different ways to support young people is more important than ever with the increased referrals – particularly amongst very vulnerable groups such as new communities and young people with special education needs and/or disabilities.
“I am delighted that we are marking this important milestone in the charity’s journey with the launch of this service – made possible through the fund raising and sponsorship support of local individuals and businesses as well as foundations and grant-giving organisations.”
Mrs Harrison continued that there was an increased incidence of child exploitation across all sections of society – affecting boys and girls regardless of where they lived, their family circumstances, backgrounds, cultures and age.
“A key aspect of grooming and exploitation is the ability by individuals and gangs to prey upon a young person’s particular vulnerabilities.
“Many young people have had their lives and social circles disrupted by the pandemic – leaving them vulnerable to grooming.
“Also, with families facing increasing financial hardship due to the cost of living crisis, more doors are opening to criminals who are looking to exploit them and coerce them into activity in return for money and expensive gifts.
“By the time the young people realise that supposed ‘relationships’ are not what they seem, they are in too deep to be able to walk away and the criminal exploitation deepens.
“Online grooming continues to be of major concern and we continue to see far too many children and young people targeted by perpetrators on social media and gaming channels despite widespread extensive publicity about the need to set watertight privacy settings.”
Safe and Sound is also committed to raising awareness of the dangers facing young people both online and in person.
During the past 12 months, Safe and Sound and engaged with more than 3,100 young people through outreach activities in local communities such as Derby city centre, Long Eaton and Swadlincote. This is in addition to the 1,000 attendees at a wide range of youth activities ranging from sports and arts and crafts to team building and cultural events.
Safe and Sound chair of trustees, Mark Richardson, concluded: “The introduction of art therapy is an important addition to the holistic support that the team provides.
“However we can only do all this, and more, with the support of local people and businesses who share our commitment to keeping young people and families safe in our local communities.”
For more information about the work of Safe and Sound and how to support them during their 20th anniversary year, please visit www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk