Safe and Sound has expanded its services to support the families of children and young people who are victims of or at risk of exploitation.

This is in recognition firstly that situations at home can increase a young person’s vulnerabilities to exploitation and, secondly, that child exploitation deeply affects not only the young person but their wider family.

Safe and Sound’s specialist family support worker is currently helping a number of families and one of them is a Derby family who have been on a downward spiral for many years – resulting in mounting debt, a chaotic household and proceedings starting to place the children into care.

They were referred to Safe and Sound over fears from police and social workers that the two older daughters aged 14 and 12 were being groomed by older men.  The ten-year-old youngest daughter was also regularly engaging with strangers on social media with little or no privacy settings.

The parents did not know about the dangers facing their younger daughters so the first task was to raise awareness amongst the whole families of the dangers of grooming and exploitation. 

Now that they know about exploitation and the dangers, the parents being far more confident to set boundaries around where the girls go and who they meet both in person and online.

The family support worker has also helped the family start to get back on their feet: addressing rent and bills arrears, clearing years of hoarded rubbish out of the house and agreeing to the social housing landlord doing vital repairs.

She has ensured the children have new beds, uniforms and toiletries to overcome the stigma and isolation they were experiencing at school and that the family had proper furniture such as a table and chairs where online schoolwork could be done and family meals enjoyed.

The mother, who suffers from anxiety and depression, has also been supported to improve her confidence and take responsibility for her own health and that of her family such as dental appointments. 

Safe and Sound have also helped mediate more positive communications between the family and social care to reduce the risk of these children being placed in care as has previously happened with other siblings in the past. 

All three girls have engaged in positive activities with Safe and Sound ranging from baking to table tennis and are doing much better at school – resulting in improved behaviour.

Simple things have also made a huge difference.  Rather than going out and potentially falling prey to perpetrators, the girls now play board games and enjoy spending quality time as a family – making them far less likely to forge unhealthy relationships outside the home.

There is a much calmer atmosphere at home and family therapy has helped them to better communicate.  There is still a long way to go and Safe and Sound will support the family as long as needed.

The Roma community face some of the greatest challenges not least because they have a deep-seated mistrust of statutory authorities and the UK culture is totally alien to their previous experiences on the edge of society in their home countries.

One of the families being supported by Safe and Sound is however turning a corner in a number of ways thanks to the patience and perseverance of the charity’s specialist New and Emerging Communities support worker.

The single-parent family was first referred to Safe and Sound following reports that one of the three girls in the family was being targeted and groomed by older men. The support worker has been helping the 17-year-old girl to recognise that she was being groomed and to raise awareness amongst the whole family of the dangers.

Their younger brother, who is 13 and struggles to make friends, is also very vulnerable to getting involved in gangs who have started to lure him in with promises of money, gifts and a sense of belonging.

The family are trapped in sub-standard housing – which Safe and Sound is trying to rectify – and exist on a very low income.

Language and cultural barriers as well as a chaotic home life have meant that the young people’s attendance at school has been very poor.

During the pandemic, Safe and Sound and partner agencies have ensured that they have the computers and wifi needed to engage in virtual learning and the support worker has brokered better communications with their schools and training providers.

This combined approach has led to the family’s better engaging with education as they feel more positive and comfortable with where and when they can do their online lessons and course work.

The younger teenagers have also welcomed the chance to do positive activities with Safe and Sound  – such as boxing and table tennis – which has given them a focus and reduced their vulnerabilities to grooming gangs.

Wider family support has included accessing benefits and legal advice and supporting the mother to receive a learning disability assessment which have all contributed to building the family’s trust and improving relationships with authorities.

There is still a long way to go but their support worker is building up trust with the family and are starting to better recognise the dangers that they all face from perpetrators looking to exploit them for their own gains.