- Youth and justice workers engage young people at greatest risk of CCE
- Aims to support young people to leave criminal gangs and reduce offending
The vulnerability of children to exploitation by criminal gangs was thrown into sharp focus in 2013 when an independent inquiry found young people in Rotherham had for more than a decade been systematically sexually exploited by groups of men.
The child sexual exploitation scandal (CSE) that engulfed the South Yorkshire town after the inquiry has had a lasting impact on how the safeguarding system across the area responds to exploitation.
In particular, agencies and practitioners have broadened their understanding of the different types of exploitation and young people's vulnerability, says Andy Hood, senior head of young people services at Doncaster Children's Services Trust.
"We've moved away from having a CSE team to an exploitation team, which is led by the manager who oversaw the CSE team," Hood explains. "Abusers use the same methods across different types of exploitation and the interventions used with young people affected by CSE, such as trauma-informed practice and therapeutic approaches, are widely applicable.
"The language has to be about exploitation covering all aspects."
To this end, Doncaster has joined with Barnsley and Rotherham councils to establish a sub-regional child criminal exploitation (CCE) hub with £1.2m of Home Office funding. The hub helps gather intelligence about CCE risk, co-ordinate the sharing of information across council and organisation boundaries, and ensure a sub-regional response for support.
Hood says the need for the hub was highlighted by analysis last year that found 33 young people in the area were being directly exploited by criminal gangs or were significantly at risk.
Key signs a child is being criminally exploited or is at risk include high levels of "missing from home" incidents, school absence and/or arrests for drug offences.
"There was one particular gang that were organised in each of the three boroughs and we needed to think collectively to ensure we had a consistent approach," says Hood.
At a strategic level, the hub - which went live in May and is funded until next April - has a steering group consisting of representatives from each council and South Yorkshire Police to set priorities and which is held to account by the force's police and crime commissioner (PCC).
"I cannot understate the partnership between social care and the police," says Hood. "South Yorkshire Police have been very supportive in not prosecuting young people found in possession of drugs when CCE is a factor."
Doncaster has a CCE operational panel that co-ordinates activity across agencies in the town. It is attended by housing, education, communities, youth offending and youth crime prevention service EPIC.
"It's role is to look at the young people involved in CCE and when we think their offending is as a result of exploitation, we can use the National Referral Mechanism as a way of ensuring they are not prosecuted and get support," says Hood.
On the ground, Doncaster's EPIC (Encouraging Potential, Inspiring Change) service, which focuses on reducing first-time entrants into the youth justice system, has begun identifying and engaging young people already in criminal gangs or at risk of CCE across the three areas.
Marcus Isman-Egal, CCE hub project lead, says much of the work on the ground is being done by youth workers and youth justice practitioners. They go into communities with high levels of anti-social behaviour to run activities - from zorbing to team sports - with the aim of "building trust and saying ‘we're here to help' in the initial weeks", explains Isman-Egal.
"It is a relationship-based practice model delivered in community settings - the workers are always out and about running activities in the evenings and at weekends," he says.
"A number of these communities are wanting to engage practitioners to develop these positive activities. They will also be active throughout the summer holidays."
Isman-Egal explains that the intelligence on young people that workers pick up can be invaluable for understanding the risks posed to young people from organised crime groups and identifying children who need support from social care to prevent CCE risks increasing.
"As with CSE, this risk is never going to go away," he says. "We need to be in the places that young people are, always be curious and recognise the risks and concerns."
It is too early to see outcomes for children and young people because the CCE hub has been operating for only three months.
However, it plans to measure impact through a range of ways, including asking participants if they feel safer after taking part, seeing a reduction in first-time entrants to the criminal justice system and reduced reoffending. It also plans to deliver sessions about the risk of CCE to 19,000 school pupils in the sub-region.
In addition, it has devised a charter for tackling CCE consisting of eight key pledges that it wants agencies to sign up to.
"We're looking to show we've saved other agencies' resources by diverting young people from the criminal justice system or improving school attendance," says Hood. "We hope the project will prove the concept to ensure it continues in Barnsley and Rotherham beyond March 2020."