THREE pilot projects aimed at preventing some of the region’s most vulnerable young people from being exploited by organised criminal gangs have been unveiled by Merseyside’s Police Commissioner.
Jane Kennedy has announced she has commissioned the new services to examine the best ways to tackle what is now recognised as ‘Child Criminal Exploitation’, which sees children as young as 10 being lured into carrying out crime on behalf of often older, more intimidating and sophisticated criminals.
The Commissioner has made a total of £75,000 available from the funding she receives from the Ministry of Justice to provide victim support services to find new ways to address this problem. She has also used the funding to commission an interactive multimedia production which will raise awareness of this threat to up to 700 young people across the region.
While there is still no legal definition of ‘Child Criminal Exploitation’ or CCE, it is increasingly being recognised as a major factor behind crime in communities across Merseyside and the UK, while also simultaneously victimising vulnerable young people and leaving them at risk of harm.
CCE often occurs without the victim being aware that they are being exploited and involves young people being encouraged, cajoled or threatened to carry out crime for the benefit of others. In return they are offered friendship or peer acceptance, but also cigarettes, alcohol or even food and accommodation.
It is believed to be the first time in the UK that grants have been awarded to tackle the issue of CCE.
Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “Child Criminal Exploitation is a rapidly emerging issue which is a major concern for our communities.
“Children as young as 10 or 11 are being groomed to enter gangs and commit crime on behalf of older criminals. These young people are being exploited and, by being persuaded or lured into carrying out illegal activities, often with the promise of something they desire as a reward, they become incredibly vulnerable.
“While there is now much greater awareness of the issue of Child Sexual Exploitation, Child Criminal Exploitation is still very much an unknown quantity. It is difficult to quantify the scale of the problem and there can often be complex factors affecting a young person’s life when they are driven by CCE into committing crime
“Victims of CCE are often fearful of getting into trouble themselves - for the very actions they have been exploited into carrying out - so it can also be difficult to get these young people to come forward and speak out about their situation.
“These pilot projects are the first step into trying to develop a greater understanding of CCE and the multi-faceted issues surrounding it. I want to provide greater support to help young people recognise the warning signs and get the help they need to prevent them from becoming embroiled in activities that could eventually land them in prison.
“By running these pilot programmes Merseyside is leading the way in protecting and supporting vulnerable young people.”
The first scheme being funding through the Commissioner’s CCE grants is a personalised and intensive support programme delivered by the Prince’s Trust for 32 teenagers, aged between 13 and 16, who have been identified as being in or at risk of CCE. The ‘Choices and Consequences’ programme will see the young people spending two days a week undertaking a wide range of activities which are tailored to their specific needs over a six-week period.
The second scheme will see Knowsley-based charity MALS (Mentor, Achieve, Learn and Support) Merseyside working with young between the ages of 11 and 19 to raise awareness of CCE, encouraging them to make better life choices. It will include training young people about the risks of becoming involved in gun and gang crime, while supporting individuals who have been identified as at risk of getting into trouble. The funding will also be used to train 15 mentors.
The final scheme will be jointly funded by Knowsley and Sefton Councils and will see them run a host of group sessions in up to three quarters of eligible schools across the two boroughs to increase awareness of CCE among young people and help them develop ways to avoid becoming exploited. The project will also see 50 professionals across the two areas receive training sessions so they can continue to deliver awareness-raising sessions into the future.
The Commissioner has also pledged nearly £11,000 to support the ‘On one condition’ production which will use drama and new media to bring the issues relating to CCE to life for young people. The funding will enable Creative Youth Support group, who deliver the interactive workshops, to run 20 sessions across Merseyside reaching up to 700 young people. The production, which has already been seen by the Deputy Police Commissioner, Cllr Sue Murphy, has received positive feedback from young people on the Wirral where it has been used by Wirral Council.
Jane said: “These projects range from really intensive one-on-one support to some of the most vulnerable young people in our communities, to more widespread group awareness raising sessions which will take these really important prevention messages to large numbers of young people.
“I look forward to reviewing the success they have in making a difference to the lives of young people in our region.”
The projects will run until the end of March 2017 and will be assessed on a quarterly basis to review their progress.
The four successful projects were selected following an assessment panel which reviewed nine bids from a range of approved providers. A total of 15 providers were invited to quote for the funding following a consultation process with the Commissioner’s Community Safety Partners.