**Joint press release with The Children’s Society**
A new service to support young people at risk of being criminally exploited has launched despite the lockdown amid fears that vulnerable children are currently ‘hidden from view’.
The Children’s Society’s Climb programme, funded by the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner, aims to prevent 10-17-year-olds from entering the criminal justice system.
Climb will support young people from Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, Worcestershire and Herefordshire as part of the Commissioner’s West Mercia Diversionary Network.
The service will offer early help to prevent young people being exploited by criminals into activities like county lines drug dealing, with practitioners reporting a significant increase in referrals of young people who had been groomed for child criminal exploitation in the area in the last 18 months.
They will offer young people advice about how to stay safe, healthy relationships and the risks of grooming.
Climb will help young people get involved in positive leisure activities which could include anything from football, film-making and fishing, to crafts, music and dancing. While many of these activities will not be possible until the lockdown has eased, the service is now open to offer one-to-one help to young people over the phone and online.
They will be offered support to build on their strengths, interests and aspirations, and to engage in education or enter work.
Once it is fully operational, Climb will be able to help up to 350 young people a year through one-to-one sessions and group work at settings including schools.
Bali Clisby, Area Manager at The Children’s Society, said: “We are delighted to be up and running. Delay was never an option as we know the current crisis has only heightened many of the risks already facing vulnerable children.
“On top of anxiety about Covid19, these young people continue to face challenges and risks both inside and outside the home, but the lockdown means many are hidden from view and less visible to professionals like teachers and the public.
“This may mean risks are not identified and young people miss out on support which can help prevent them being exploited by criminals.
“By working closely with young people at an early stage, this programme with a difference can support them to stay safe and help them channel their energy into positive activities.
“It is fantastic that the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner has recognised the value of this vital preventative work.”
Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion said: “I’m committed to improving the lives of young people, so I’m delighted to be working with The Children’s Society in order to do this. Together we can reduce the risk of young people being exposed to criminality by building resilience within them.
“The trauma that these individuals can experience in their lives leaves them vulnerable, which greatly increases the risk of them being exploited or entering the criminal justice system.
“We all have a part to play in preventing this from happening, so I would urge anyone who is concerned about a young person to refer them into the service and ensure they get the help they need.”
Professionals, relatives and the wider public can all refer young people into the service. It will accept referrals for young people who do not currently get help from children’s social care, including those who are starting to be reported missing from home or who may be at risk of being criminally exploited and entering the criminal justice system.
Other warning signs could include young people returning home late, unexplained money, phones, clothes or jewellery, and being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going. There could also be signs of drug use, increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour, involvement in anti-social behaviour and use of drug-related, violent or sexual language.
Referrals to the service, which was named Climb following a suggestion by a young person, can be made at https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/climb
Issued on: Thursday 21st May 2020