Column: We need to listen and be flexible to what young people are telling us
One of the darker aspects of the pandemic has been the increased risk to children and young people of online and in person grooming and exploitation, reports Tracy Harrison, CEO of specialist Derbyshire charity Safe and Sound.
During lockdowns in particular, young people spent far more time online which has increased their vulnerability to grooming.
Many young people have also faced additional issues including increased financial pressures on families and heightened tensions at home which has made them more susceptible to manipulative grooming from sexual predators and drugs gangs.
As Covid restrictions have eased, we have long recognised the increased dangers that online grooming will translate into in-person exploitation.
We have therefore increased our presence in local communities – regularly visiting areas which young people frequent to raise their awareness of services available to them and to find out what support and activities they would like moving forwards.
Having initially piloted the outreach programme in Derby, with the help of a growing volunteer team we have more recently expanded into parts of Erewash and then also in South Derbyshire, where there had previously been a deeply disturbing knife crime incident and a greater reassuring presence was required.
As well as talking to young people about the dangers of grooming and exploitation, we have been able to signpost them to other services and activities.
The overwhelming feedback from young people to our outreach teams has been that they have appreciated that we have asked them what they want – rather than just presuming that we know how they are feeling, what they have experienced and what support they need.
We all know that the world is and will continue to be a very different place post-Covid and young people have arguably faced some of the greatest challenges in terms of isolation and disruption.
Moving forwards, my message to everyone – from families to professionals working with young people – is that we stop, listen and be flexible to what young people are telling us.
Only then will we all be able to work together to provide a more positive pathway for children and young people to enable them to spread their wings and safely move into young adulthood.
For more information about the work of Safe and Sound, volunteering opportunities and ways to support the please visit https://www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk/
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