Support services 'critical' to easing exploitation in Yorkshire, Children's Minister Nadhim Zahawi says

Children's Minister Nadhim Zahawi
Children's Minister Nadhim Zahawi

Support services are “critical” to easing challenges over exploitation, the Children’s Minister has told The Yorkshire Post, as efforts are stepped up to prevent the region’s most vulnerable young people being targeted by violent gangs.

Parts of Yorkshire have seen rising challenge over recent years amid reports of child sexual exploitation, grooming, and an emergence around so-called ‘county lines’ drugs activities, including within traditionally more affluent communities.

Now Nadhim Zahawi, speaking to The Yorkshire Post after details were revealed for an access programme for specialist support, has said the additional funding is part of a package aimed at helping the most vulnerable.

And in models being rolled out nationwide, he adds, proposals are to be built upon some of those trialled in the region which are already seeing major results.

“It’s critical, in Yorkshire and across the country,” he said. “We are trying to put together that access locally, so that services such as doctors, social workers and teachers can then work together.

“That will then deliver much better safeguarding at home or at school.”

Funding

Education Secretary Damian Hinds, announcing the £2m scheme yesterday to tackle specific threats in individual council areas, said agencies were “united” in cracking down on those who attempted to lead vulnerable young people down a dangerous path.

The programme will see councils offered help in tackling threats such as gangs, county lines drug dealing, online grooming, sexual exploitation and modern slavery.

South Yorkshire Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings, dismissing the sum as a “sticking plaster” which would soon disappear amid shrinking services, said: “We need something much more radical.

“We are talking about schools under pressure, youth services that have practically disappeared,” he added. “It is clearly a big issue for all of us.”

Good practice

But Mr Zahawi, detailing work underway in the region which is already impacting on young people on the fringes of care, said this is part of a wider vision to tackle challenges nationwide.

He particularly praised North Yorkshire County Council’s No Wrong Door scheme, which replaced traditional council-run young peoples’ homes with hubs and combined fostering, as well as focusing on dedicated team with key workers.

The number of young people facing arrest had fallen 38 per cent in the first 18 months of the programme, he said, while the number facing a trip to A&E in that time had almost halved.

He had been so impressed with changes here, he added, that he taken ideas to the Treasury for backing to share this on a wider scale.

“This scheme has been absolutely brilliant, it really is making a difference,” he said.

“If we look at what North Yorkshire is doing, and if I could take that model to 20 other authorities, we can begin to deliver on the ground.

“There are the huge challenges that local authorities face which is why we want to get the best experts possible.”