The number of children at risk of child sexual exploitation revealed

County Hall, in Durham.
County Hall, in Durham.

Social media and missing children continue to pose challenges to the police and council in preventing child sexual exploitation (CSE), a meeting has heard.

On July 24, councillors heard an update on the work of Educate and Raise Awareness of Sexual Exploitation (ERASE) – a multi-agency scheme which  operates across County Durham and Darlington.

In an update on the service, operations manager for Children and Young People’s Services at Durham County Council (DCC), Lisa Wood, revealed recent statistics on children at risk of CSE.

Between April 2017 and March 2018, 135 reports were submitted to the council with 16 young people classed as ‘high risk’, 10 as medium ‘risk’ and 109 as ‘low risk’.

Over the same period, she added, there were 239 episodes of County Durham children going missing – a group of young people particularly at risk of CSE – with 61 living in Durham-based children’s homes at the time.

Addressing councillors at Durham County Hall, Ms Wood added the service had identified an increase in young boys and young men being exploited and noted the impact of social media as a space for CSE.

“Parents are under pressure to allow their children to have access to social media at a younger age and it allows perpetrators to have opportunities to exploit children,” she said.

A special joint meeting of the Safer and Stronger Communities and Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees discussed the issue this week.

Coun Christine Potts described social media as a “minefield” while Coun Rob Crute added advertising and peer pressure – and the resulting impact on self-esteem – can increase the vulnerability of young people.

“It’s escalated by things like social media and it’s very difficult to mitigate that,” he said.

Solutions posed by the joint-committee included more awareness work in community venues and starting conversations with parents around the risks of social media.

Looking forward, Ms Wood said the team aims to “keep ahead of the game” regarding the use of social media and digital communication among young people.

A “trust and tell” approach also aims to encourage young people to speak out alongside work with children’s homes and primary / secondary schools.

Dt Sgt Ian Haddick, of Durham Constabulary, told councillors the force is improving intelligence gathering and sharing alongside working with licensed premises to help them “spot the signs” of CSE.

This included work with around 1,600 County Durham taxi drivers to embed CSE awareness training into their licence conditions.

The officer added a new police protocol would launch later this year with “joint enquiries helping to locate missing young people as quickly as possible”.

ERASE is supported by both Durham and Darlington Local Safeguarding Children Boards.

Future work includes focusing on “hotspot areas” such as hotels, B & Bs and licensed premises and developing a flagging system with A and E to help report CSE concerns.

For more information, visit: www.eraseabuse.org

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service