The media contains stories about cases on a daily basis such that the topic at times almost feels like it has lost its ‘shock value’ to the reader.
Complacency is an enemy to keeping our young people safe, which is why we must guard against that all times and never stop trying to promote a better understanding of the warning signs.
At Oldham Council our Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) has the statutory responsibility for our overall CSE strategy.
And it is our Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), which has the job of identifying children at risk and helping those who become victims.
We are proud of their work and committed to helping them by keeping these issues in the public eye.
That’s why, for the fourth year running, we’ve again joined forces with our partners in Project Phoenix – Greater Manchester’s multi-agency response to the problem – in a ‘Week of Action’.
The focus this time is on the strong link between young people who run away or go missing from home and cases of exploitation.
Regional statistics show that this connection is irrefutable and needs more attention drawn to it.
‘Going missing’ has several variants, of course – including bunking off from school, staying out overnight or running away for a few days or longer.
But the chilling truth is that 95 per cent of those children who are judged to be at risk from CSE have all gone missing at least once.
In 2014, a total of 4,226 young people went missing in Greater Manchester. Of those 44 per cent only went missing once – but 43 children went missing more than 100 times.
Part of the problem is that they are often simply unaware of the dangers that they may place themselves in when they stay away from home.
Those who go missing are amongst the most vulnerable children around us, however, and there are many reasons why this might happen.
It could be neglect or abuse at home.
It could be drug or alcohol misuse by their parents or family members.
And it could also be that they are under the influence of predatory adults.
In cases like these it’s absolutely vital that young people get support at the earliest possible stage so that we can help to address the issues – whatever the context – and protect them from becoming a victim of CSE or other crimes.
About 18 months ago we launched the ‘It’s Not Okay’ campaign as part of Project Phoenix’s work with public and voluntary sector partners to protect young people together.
This joined-up approach is proving effective in raising awareness and having direct contact and discussions with children and those who care for them. This has meant that hundreds more young people have been identified, educated and helped than ever before.
This work is absolutely vital and Oldham Council will continue to play a leading role with our partners in highlighting the issues.
We all have a part to play in helping to spot this and to help keep young people safe.
You should, of course, always urge your own children to keep in touch when not at home: whether that is through a relative or a friend, or someone they trust.
But even if you are not a parent, you too have an important role to play as our ‘eyes and ears’ on these matters because vigilance cannot just be left to our childcare professionals or the police.
I would be grateful if you would take just a few minutes today to visit the website at www.itsnotokay.co.uk to learn more about the early signs that a child in your community could be at serious risk.
It’s important to point out that it will often be the case that several small pieces of information from different sources will contribute to the full picture of what is really going on in a vulnerable young person’s life.
By providing information confidentially you could play an invaluable part in safeguarding a young person – and others – by sharing it and letting the professionals investigate.
Changes in the way that a child appears, behaves or communicates can often be key and you can report concerns in several ways in Oldham.
If you suspect someone is in immediate risk of harm then you should always call 999 and speak to the police.
All calls will be treated seriously and confidentially.
To report information contact Oldham’s MASH team between 9am and 5pm on 0161 770 3790 or 3791.
You can also report concerns online at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/lscb
Outside office hours you can call the Emergency Duty Team on 0161 770 6936 or the police on 0161 772 5050.
Please never put off those concerns. Don’t leave that call to someone else.