How animation is helping to tackle child exploitation in West Yorkshire

Mister Shapeshifter
Mister Shapeshifter
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An innovative animation has been designed to safeguard children in Leeds and across the county from the risks of exploitation and abuse.

Mr Shapeshifter uses a modern ‘fairy tale’ to depict how some adults can abuse children’s trust and highlights ways in which young people can protect themselves.

Supported by West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson through a £36,000 grant, it gets its first official screening today at an event in Bradford.

Mr Burns-Williamson said online safety and child exploitation were priorities that he had been personally committed to addressing through his work.

“Having previously provided financial support to the Mr Shapeshifter theatre performances, I immediately recognised the wider potential it held,” he said. “This led to me injecting a significant amount of grant money, as part of the West Yorkshire Child Sexual Exploitation Innovation Project, to help make the animation a reality.”

The animation is based on the acclaimed GW Theatre Company stage production written by Mike Harris, which has toured schools since 2015.

It has been created in collaboration with Fettle Animation, a BAFTA award-winning company based in Marsden.

Dave Jones, GW’s creative director, said it was a huge coup for the region that would help to tackle these important issues locally and nationwide.

“This animation will carry powerful messages and information to thousands of children, parents, carers and families,” he said. “If something doesn’t feel right then it very probably isn’t. Tell someone and keep repeating yourself until you are heard.

“By raising and embedding these and other issues in all communities, West Yorkshire is defining a new safeguarding standard.”

The resource will be available online at www.mrshapeshifter.com for anyone to use alongside free support materials.

It is designed to help teachers, parents, community groups and organisations alike to discuss these complex issues with children of primary school age.

Mr Burns-Williamson added: “It is crucial that young people have a clear knowledge of the signs of child exploitation or abuse and how they are able to flag it to the authorities or parents when or where it occurs.”

LEEDS PUPILS AT LAUNCH

Pupils from a Leeds primary school will be among those attending the official launch.

Children at Bankside Primary School were given a sneak preview of Mister Shapeshifter after it received the seal of approval from their assistant headteacher.

Kauser Jan said she believed the animation would prove to be a brilliant resource for use in schools and beyond.

“I think it’s something that’s much needed sadly,” she said. “It’s got great potential not only with children in primary schools and the adults that work with them, but also externally for parents.

“There’s potential to explore the themes that are in the animations such as trusted adults, child safety, internet safety and gut instinct – listening to your inner voice. There are lots of themes in there that can be explored and should be explored.”

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, who will be a guest speaker at the event, agrees that the project is one that could make a real difference to the lives of some vulnerable children.

She said: “Sadly, we know that around two thirds of victims of child sexual abuse do not feel able to tell anyone what is happening, so resources like Mister Shapeshifter can really help to create conditions in which children feel secure enough to tell someone they trust if they are being abused.”