Child Advocates scheme aims to help youngsters at risk of sexual exploitation

Children who go missing from home and are at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE) can now talk to their own Advocates as part of a bid by South Wales Police to help keep them safe. The initiative is the result of a partnership, led by Police and Crime Commissioner,  Alun Michael, between South Wales Police and Barnardo’s Cymru

Four Child Advocates have now joined officers at South Wales Police to help tackle child sexual exploitation. And a launch event in Cardiff gave an opportunity for the project partners to talk to stakeholders, to raise awareness of the Child Advocacy project, and to explore opportunities to sustain this vital role after a successful bid to the Innovation Fund secures the four Child Advocate posts for two years.

“Often young people are not willing to disclose the severity of the issues they are experiencing to figures of authority, such as doctors, teachers or police officers,” said Mr Michael today.  This view was echoed in a thematic review of Child Sexual Exploitation, requested by the Commissioner and the Chief Constable, which endorsed the need for a “debriefing” service for missing children to engage with young people who are vulnerable and in danger of becoming sexually exploited.

The Child Advocates are experienced in communicating with young people in a sensitive manner that encourages them to share what’s going on in their lives. In partnership, South Wales Police and Barnardo’s Cymru will train, supervise and monitor the work of the Child Advocates.

Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Sophie Howe, said:

“Children at risk of sexual exploitation are some of the most vulnerable in society. By working in partnership with Barnardo’s Cymru and developing this specialist Child Advocate role, we can reach out to vulnerable children and young people.

“The debriefing service will give us the opportunity to intervene and help prevent sexual exploitation taking place, and to protect and support the young person if they have been a victim of abuse.

“As we gain more disclosures from young people, data collection will become more robust, enabling South Wales Police to continue to develop strategies in partnership with a range of agencies to better protect young people and ensure perpetrators of child sexual exploitation are prevented from causing harm.”

Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Holland, South Wales Police, said:

“We are committed to tackling child sexual exploitation in south Wales, and the development of the Child Advocate role is a significant step towards achieving this.

“We recognise that vulnerable young people need to feel safe, secure and comfortable before they can disclose sensitive information, and the four Child Advocates have the skills to facilitate this.”

”With the knowledge and information gained we can then help ensure that any safeguarding measures required are put in place for the child or young person, and we can pursue the perpetrators.”

Yvonne Rodgers, Director, Barnardo’s Cymru said:

“Since starting this work in Wales ten years ago, we have been clear that multi-agency working is key to tackling child sexual exploitation.

“We bring to this partnership our established practice expertise and our absolute commitment to working with others to keep children and young people safe.

“Child sexual exploitation is a complex form of abuse which can leave victims feeling both dependent on and terrified of perpetrators. They are left feeling that there is no-one they can trust and that perhaps nobody will believe them anyway.

“I am confident that through this partnership we will help children and young people feel that there are people they can trust, people who will believe them and people who will keep them safe.”

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