The new Tackling Child Exploitation Support Programme will see specialists across education, health, social care, the police and voluntary sectors come together to help those most vulnerable, education secretary Damian Hinds has said.
The programme is designed to improve how different areas respond to child exploitation - such as gangs, county lines drug dealing, online grooming, sexual exploitation, trafficking or modern slavery.
It will help equip professionals involved in the protection of young people to identify those most at risk from dangers in their communities and online.
Mr Hinds said: “We are all united in cracking down on those who try to lead vulnerable young people down a dangerous path, and the threats they face are multiple and complex. We must make sure that we work together and this new approach to better support teachers, police and health professionals will improve the expertise and guidance available to all those who care for and educate young people.”
Exploitation can take a variety of forms, and often there is a link between the threats vulnerable young people are exposed to. The National Crime Agency (NCA) found that in 2017 more than a third of police forces reported evidence of child sexual exploitation in relation to so-called county lines activity – a practice used by criminals of using children and young people to traffic drugs from one region to another, often in rural areas.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, said: “The grooming techniques now being used by county lines gangs are similar to what we see in online sexual exploitation of children. Often young people don’t see themselves as victims and are flattered by feeling part of a group and gifts, so they are less likely to speak to police.
“That’s why a joined up approach involving teachers, doctors, parents and others is crucial and this new programme will bring all our efforts together to help keep our young people safe.
"Child protection is a key policing priority and we will continue to do all we can to pursue and prosecute criminals who exploit the vulnerable.”
Every council across England will be able to apply for bespoke support from the scheme to tackle specific threats in their area.
They will be able to receive support from staff with expertise in tackling particular areas of exploitation and also set up research projects in their area to build a better knowledge about the specific threats to children outside their family home in their local area,
The preferred bidder for the programme will be a team of academics and experts led by Research in Practice, together with The Children’s Society and the University of Bedfordshire.