More than 1,200 Year 6 pupils in Cumbria have been taught about healthy relationships in schools, as part of the ongoing work of a Barnardo’s service to tackle child sexual exploitation in the region.
The Barnardo’s Real Love Rocks training – a preventative programme developed to promote age appropriate understanding of healthy relationships and online safety – has been delivered to Year 6 children in 65 primary school settings across the county.
Over the past two years, Barnardo’s has been working in partnership with schools professionals, with more than 120 professionals now trained to deliver this programme, to ensure this can be sustained by schools into the future.
The Barnardo’s service to tackle child sexual exploitation in Cumbria focuses around prevention and early intervention. In addition to educating children in schools, specialist staff support children and young people aged from 10 to 18 years who are known to be at risk of exploitation or whose vulnerability and behaviours may lead to this in the future.
Staff also support the parents or carers of these vulnerable children, helping to build resilience, explore different approaches when dealing with challenging behaviours, learn about digital dangers and how to put protective factors in place, as well as ultimately strengthen their parent-child relationship.
On National Child Exploitation Awareness day (18 March 2020), Barnardo’s is keen to raise local awareness of the issue of exploitation, highlighting that any child anywhere can be vulnerable.
In the coming weeks, the Barnardo’s service will also be widening the scope of its work to offer support to children and their families who have been subject to criminal exploitation in the region.
Ellen Buckley, Manager for the Barnardo’s Child Exploitation Team said: “Child sexual exploitation is a crime that can threaten any child in any community and sadly it is something that is happening everywhere, including Cumbria.
“The nature of the threat of CSE is changing fast with new technologies like live-streaming, social media, gaming and the dark web providing new avenues for abusers to gain access to children.
“Children who are sexually exploited may also be forced to commit crimes and this is why our work in Cumbria will soon be extending to encompass support for children and their families who have been victims of criminal exploitation.
“The behaviours and mechanisms that offenders use mean that it becomes very difficult for children to both spot the signs of abuse or once they do realise they are being harmed and abused, to tell someone.
“This is why it is so important for people to look out for and recognise some of the potential signs of grooming and act upon this accordingly, as well as to put effective protective measures in place to ensure children are not at risk. It’s imperative that we as adults and services are doing all we can to equip our young people with the knowledge to navigate living in today’s society safely.”
National Child Exploitation Awareness Day (18 March 2020) aims to highlight the issue of child sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation by encouraging people everywhere to think about, spot the signs and speak out against all forms of child exploitation and abuse.
You can show your support for the national campaign via social media by writing a personal pledge on your hand, taking a photo and posting it to your social media accounts using the hashtags #HelpingHands and #CEADay20.
To find out more about the work of Barnardo’s Child Exploitation Service in Cumbria, please call 01768 899901.
How can adults identify concerns and what can they do?
Steps you can take:
The most important thing you can do is be interested in your child’s life, celebrate the things going well and respond to their worries and anxieties sensitively. Children who know they are likely to get a supportive and non-judgemental response are much more likely to tell their parents when things aren’t right.
Often a parent’s first instinct is to stop children from going out with peers, or take away digital devices. Unfortunately this can increase anger and mistrust, which in turn could escalate the exploitation. Therefore having regular and calm conversations about the following things may instead help you address anxieties in a positive way.
Important things to talk to your child about might include:
- Late nights out, new friends who you haven’t met or heard about before and any unexplained belongings.
- The safety strategies your child has when outside of the house, how can they contact you, who else could help them, how they can be supported and support their friends.
- Their online activity; the apps and games they use, the safety mechanisms on those apps and the safety strategies your child is using. Ask if there is a chat component and who they connect with and the nature of their discussions. Agree together the levels of parental controls and strategies you will use as a family to keep them safe on all devices used both inside and outside the home.
If you have worries and they persist, then it is important that parents know they can contact others for help. A good place to start is by approaching other adults that your child might have a good relationship with, such as a tutor or youth worker to share your concerns and get advice.
Parents can contact organisations such as PACE – an organisation that helps parents who are worried that their child may be being exploited and abused. Information on sexual abuse and exploitation can also be found at Parent Zone.
Children also have a right to high-quality relationships and sex education (RSE) which must include information about healthy relationships, consent, respect and online safety skills. This in itself will not necessarily help children spot abusers but it may help them ask for help if something is happening.