The fight to stop children being exploited by organised crime gangs is set to receive an important boost this month.
For some time we have been working hard to deal with Child Criminal Exploitation. Over the last six months, we have been running monthly CCE Operations meetings to discuss suspected cases across many different agencies.
But this month we will see a new CCE Hub set up, led by Doncaster Council, but serving Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham.
As a result of a successful bid for Government funding, the project will be able to make a big difference in how we deal with this issue.
The Hub consists of a team leader, four intervention outreach workers, three assistant psychologists, and a seconded police officer. These additional resources will allow intensive work to be completed with the child or young person at risk of CCE, along with any relevant support for their families. Having the psychologists to provide mental health support is a huge asset to the team. The Hub will be working under the current EPIC model, (Empowering Potential and Inspiring Change). The EPIC team work with young people, who have become known to the Criminal Justice System, but have not yet been charged with anything. The Hub has allowed that remit to be extended to all young people who are believed at risk of CCE, whether or not they have been arrested. The EPIC model also includes a period of intensive work within a specific nominated area of the community, primarily where it is recognised that children are being coerced into criminal activity by adults. The EPIC team, will promote positive activities, and help existing local youth projects and volunteers to establish themselves, and engage the young people.
I head the police Protecting Vulnerable People unit in Doncaster. Child criminal exploitation is one of the many issues that we deal with in that team. My CCE officers, work closely with the Operation Fortify teams, who work to disrupt gang activity across the county.
All our CCE staff will feed into the hub, to make sure we have a joined up approach and we can target those most in need by putting people out in the community to try to engage them through outreach, support and mentors.
We are becoming much more aware of the scale of Child Criminal Exploitation, and we have been working to deal with the problem.
There are criminal gangs in Doncaster, and we have been tackling them robustly. But we have become better at recognising where children and young people are being exploited, and looking at these children as victims, not criminals.
That is not to say that children who break the law will not be prosecuted.
Tackling CCE is not easy. The youngest child to have gone through the CCE Operational panel has been 12, and typically they are involved in antisocial behaviour, criminal damage, or drug dealing. Some are considered at the panel because they are thought to be at risk, rather than having already started their involvement.
The children don’t see themselves as victims. In their minds they have chosen how they want to behave, and that can make it difficult to keep them safe and divert them from crime.
But we have been trying to do that by working with services such as the EPIC team, which provides positive activities, such as sports in the community. They encourage education, and ensure other services actively engage with the family. When we talk about a child at the panel, we discuss all available options to try to divert them from the path they’re on. They may see it as a glamorous path, where they get money and possessions, but they don’t always see the danger.
Gangs use violence, it is how they operate, and the children involved are also in danger of being arrested, something which will stay with them, throughout their lives, and effect their available choices into adulthood. Recently in Doncaster a 16-year-old boy was seriously beaten and suffered a serious head injury. That crime is still being investigated, with the victim now out of hospital but still requiring medical care.
There is inherent danger in involvement with criminal gangs, something that children don’t always appreciate.
The introduction of ‘spice’ onto the streets has aggravated the situation and led to a rising number of children being arrested with a significant amount of drugs in their possession. We have seen a lot of young people using ‘spice’, and occasions where adults are using children to deal it. The town centre has seen that rise, and efforts are ongoing to tackle this problem. Once someone is identified as ‘at risk’ of CCE, the CCE Ops panel discusses the case and puts a plan together. It maybe that EPIC gets involved with sports or activities, or we might get the child involved with education or an apprenticeship. It is about giving them a role model as an alternative.