How a project stops young people going missing

Emily Rogers
Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Young people get help to avoid sexual exploitation through a service that supports them to understand and identify risky situations.

Workers help clients think through the risks of going missing, understand and identify abuse, and build up their self-esteem. Picture: The Children’s Society
Workers help clients think through the risks of going missing, understand and identify abuse, and build up their self-esteem. Picture: The Children’s Society


Scarpa (Safeguarding Children At Risk – Prevention and Action)


To help 10- to 18-year-olds escape and avoid sexual exploitation and stop going missing


Around £460,000 a year. The project was awarded £700,000 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Communities fund over three years until December 2016. Other key sources of funding include Ballinger Charitable Trust, Northern Rock Foundation and council fees


In 2006, The Children’s Society appointed a development worker to establish a Newcastle-based service for young people going missing after research identified a growing problem. Scarpa was launched at Brunswick Methodist Church in the city centre in November 2007, in partnership with Barnardo’s, which remained involved until 2010. The scheme now operates in Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and Northumberland.


Young people who have gone missing can access the programme following “return interviews”, which Scarpa is contracted by councils to conduct within 72 hours of their return. Young clients are increasingly those identified as priority cases by M-SET (Missing, Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking) groups – multi-agency sub-groups of each authority’s safeguarding children board.

Scarpa also takes referrals from agencies such as police, social care and schools and young people can refer themselves. There are three Newcastle-based Scarpa workers and one each for Gateshead, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and Sunderland, plus three specialist workers for black and minority ethnic communities, young men, and young women aged 16 to 21. In their initial discussion with the young person, the workers assess factors such as social media use, who young clients meet and where, what happens with that person, substance use and their number of missing episodes.

Staff use a measure developed in-house called the Holistic Assessment and Referral Tool (Hart) to assess clients’ risk level and determine the support they need. Those with the lowest scores – around one third of clients – are rated green and receive between two and four “Safe Choices” sessions, individually or in groups. Workers use quizzes and other activities to help clients think through the risks of going missing, understand and identify abuse, and build the self-esteem they need to exit risky situations, stay safe and pursue ambitions. “For many, that’s what makes the difference,” explains the charity’s North East area manager, Ben Dickenson. “They’re mainly teenagers who’ve gone missing once or twice, trying stuff out, but aren’t yet aware going to that party could put them at risk of sexual exploitation or assault.”

Around 40 per cent of clients are rated amber, and may receive longer-term one-to-one support on top of these sessions. Red cases require around 12 months of intensive one-to-one support to tackle the complex issues that have led them into sexually-exploitative situations. This could involve working with their families and advocating for them at safeguarding strategy meetings.

Workers have maximum caseloads of 10 and meet young people at least once a week, discussing issues that may be pushing or pulling them away from home and referring them to specialist services and positive activities where appropriate. “Push” factors could be domestic issues such as parents’ drinking. “Pull” factors may include gifts or cash they receive from exploiters. It can be hard for disadvantaged young people to walk away, says Dickenson: “They may appear to be willingly engaging, but actually, they’re surviving.”

Young people are assessed again using Hart after a month. Their risk rating may well have increased because they have opened up and disclosed more. Longer-term clients are then assessed every three months. Some go on to join the Scarpa Squad, raising awareness of sexual exploitation and safety issues, by delivering presentations and group sessions to policymakers and young people.


Of 304 participants receiving support between April 2014 and March 2015, 81 per cent stopped or reduced their missing episodes and 84 per cent saw positive change, according to data gathered by the charity. Emotional and mental wellbeing improved for 70 per cent while 71 per cent improved their safety and 68 per cent developed better relationships with friends and family. The programme also led to 123 clients embarking on positive activities such as the Scarpa Squad and 67 improving their engagement and attainment in education or employment.



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