Councils join in fight against child sex abuse

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Safeguarding professionals joined together last week to attend the first-ever Bedfordshire Against CSE conference on child sexual exploitation which particularly focused on how to protect young people from online grooming.

The one-day conference was an initiative between Bedford, Luton and Central Bedfordshire Councils, Bedfordshire Police and Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children’s Boards – as part of the ongoing county-wide campaign ‘The More You Know, The More You See’, which launched in 2015.

Speakers included Sammy Woodhouse, survivor of the Rotherham abuse scandal, who advised delegates that there was too much victim blaming and that survivors of abuse should be treated as individuals. And Lorin La Fave, mother of Breck Bedner, who was groomed via the internet and murdered by someone he met online. Lorin talked about the importance of teaching young people to look out for the signs of exploitation and grooming.

Richard Denton, Children and Young Persons Development Co-ordinator for Bedfordshire Police, gave an input on how to keep children safe online, and the University of Bedfordshire delivered a session on how to improve the way in which police and partner agencies engage with young people.

Cllr Mahmood Hussain, Portfolio Holder for children and young people, said: “It’s now exceptionally easy for children and young people to access the internet and although this opens up lots of positive opportunities to communicate with others, on the negative side children can be easily targeted by those people looking to take advantage of them. We must listen to the survivors of sexual abuse and learn how we can better support our young people so that we can keep them safe.”

Cllr Shan Hunt, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Social Care at Bedford Borough Council, said: “The Bedford Borough Safeguarding Children Board (BBSCB) was judged to be Good by Ofsted in April this year, but we must never be complacent on this topic. Technology is constantly changing and evil perpetrators will use this to their advantage. We must keep one step ahead.

“We also want to reach out to anyone in distress, who may be a victim of such crimes, to let them know there is help out there. By sharing knowledge, we will come up with the most effective way to protect young people.”

Detective Superintendent Nick Bellingham, from the Bedfordshire Police Public Protection Unit, said: “Child sexual exploitation is a very real issue and it’s happening in Bedfordshire. It’s important that we work together to help tackle it and events such as this are a fantastic way of raising awareness and educating each other so that we can better protect the young people of Bedfordshire. The conference was very impactful and insightful, and an important step forward in our fight against CSE.”

Richard Carr, Chief Executive of Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “In terms of understanding CSE and its impact, there is nothing more powerful than the stories of victims. Sammy Woodhouse’s testimony dispelled the assumption that CSE only happens to children from broken homes. And it also shocked me how dismissive the various agencies involved were of the fact that she was a child and a victim. Clearly we have moved on since then, but we cannot risk becoming complacent and fail to recognise that CSE can happen in circumstances we may not have assumed.”

Anyone with any concerns for a young person’s safety or who would like any general advice on the topic of child sexual exploitation, please visit: www.bedfordshireagainstcse.org . Alternatively, call the Police on 101.