Families coming to the UK from Eastern Europe in search of a better life are particularly vulnerable to exploitation for a number of reasons and Safe and Sound is a key part of the city’s successful New and Emerging Communities Project.
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.