Supporting children who are at risk of sexual exploitation
Last week three of the newest members of our Policy team went to Keighley in Yorkshire to visit The Children’s Society Hand in Hand programme. Hand in Hand works with and supports children and young people (both boys and girls) involved in or vulnerable to sexual exploitation. It supports young people who are wishing to escape the abusive and exploitative relationships they find themselves involved in.
100,000 young people will run away overnight on at least one occassion before they are 16
All children and young people are at risk of being sexually exploited, regardless of age, gender or where they live. Running away or going missing is an early indicator of child sexual exploitation and the act of running away or going missing is often used as a coping mechanism to deal with problems in a young person’s life. One hundred thousand young people will run away overnight on at least one occasion before they are aged 16, and 1 in 5 of those young people will be at serious risk of harm while they are away.
The right to feel safe
The programme staff told us how they work every day with the principle that under all circumstances 'everyone has the right to feel safe'. They work one-to-one with over 100 children and young people each year, and through their preventative group work, engage with hundreds more. Their number one priority is the well-being of the children and young people. With the young people often leading chaotic lifestyles or having run away from home, this could be something that might seem insignificant to most people, like eating a hot meal, having a shower, or having a ‘regular’ conversation.
Encouraging young people to participate in our work
Where possible they also encourage the young people to participate in the direction the programme takes. Recently, a Young Person’s Advisory Group was established, and two young people were given the opportunity to interview prospective new members of staff. The programme also arranged for four young people to travel to London and take part in a consultation at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency (who have recently taken over responsibility for missing children), a trip that one young person described as 'the best day of my life'.
All of us left at the end of the day with an admiration of the unending support that the programme gives young people who spend their childhood going through the most traumatic of experiences.