This month Hand in Hand is our Featured programme. Based in Keighley, Hand in Hand supports children and young people who have run away and those that are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. We spoke to the programme's manager Emma Holmes to find out more about what they do and how they are making difference to children's lives.
What do you think the biggest challenges are in working with children and young people?
Some of the biggest challenges don't come from the young people themselves but from society labelling and stereotyping them. Many of the young people we work with and support would fall under some of the most common stereotypes – they've been involved with crime, gangs, have substance misuse issues, NEETs etc. However at Hand in Hand we’re able to effectively engage with these young people.
What do you feel has been your biggest achievement over the past year?
Our programme workers make a massive difference to the lives of the young people they support and I would say this is an achievement of ours. We have supported young people to have a voice and make statements to the police about the abuse they have endured at the hands of groomers. Our good reputation has grown within the local area, increasing referrals and requests for group work.
What impact have you had on the local community?
We offer a dedicated service to the young people of Keighley and work closely with partners including the community, where appropriate, to ensure that young people are safe and that the adults that abuse and groom them are stopped.
How many children and young people do you support each year?
We support approximately 85 young people through direct one-to-one support and roughly 700 a year through group and schoolwork. The young people are aged up to 21 and represent the local community regarding ethnicity, sexuality and gender.
What are your plans for the coming year?
We would like to secure funding for another year and expand what is offered through new posts such as specialist CSE drugs worker and a family mediation worker. We would like to expand the portfolio of work that we offer into new areas of provision.
We would also like to expand partnerships to achieve increased service provision for children and young people and continue to support young people to make a difference through meaningful participation.
Finish this sentence: I couldn't do my job without…
The committed and hard working programme staff and volunteers at Hand in Hand. Everyone works hard to achieve the best possible outcomes for the children and young people we work with and we strive to make the programme a safe and child- friendly space.
What do you think are the most frustrating stereotypes about young people?
That some young people are 'unreachable' and that only girls are sexually exploited and vulnerable when they go missing.
What is the predominant reason you come across for children running away?
In my experience there are many reasons why young people runaway or go missing for example, an older exploitative boyfriend, the young person being encouraged to go missing by their peers, substance misuse, conflict between the young person and their parent(s), struggling with sexuality and identity, the list goes on.
Every year more than 100,000 children run away from home or care. And they need your help.
That is why The Children's Society has launched the Make Runaways Safe campaign. We aim to protect every child that runs away and ensure that there is a national safety net of support. Find out more about how you can help.