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International Missing Children’s Day – how Barnardo’s Cymru is helping keep children safe today and everyday

Every once in a while a missing child attracts national media attention but in fact a child goes missing in the UK every three minutes.

Most will eventually return home but not always happily. They may have been groomed, sexually exploited and even trafficked to other parts of the country which is why the children’s charity Barnardo’s is working with them to help them recover from their experiences and protect them in future.

Today is International Missing Children’s Day (Thurs 25th May) set up to draw attention to a problem which should be on every parent’s radar as social media and the internet make it easier than ever for children and young people to get caught up in a dangerous world.

It is now all too easy for children to be groomed on line by people using false identities and for young people to agree to meet up, not realising what they might be walking into.

The Barnardo’s Cymru Missing Service in South Wales is funded by the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and deploys four CSE and Missing Practitioners across the South Wales Police area to work with children and young people who have gone missing from home, even if they have only been away for a few hours. Eight young people were reported missing over a typical weekend recently, showing the scale of the problem.

Those practitioners and colleagues from South Wales Police work in partnership in a bid to identify and help vulnerable children at risk of being targeted for child sexual exploitation through gangs and individual perpetrators.

One of them, Sarah-Jane Davies, said:

“This is a particularly hidden form of abuse which can often happen within the context of relationships.

“Young people can be targeted online, at a party or elsewhere in the community. Often adults will target young people due to their vulnerabilities and look to employ grooming tactics which are designed to build a trusting relationship with the child for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

“Someone might put something online saying, ‘Fancy a road trip?’ It sounds like fun but could be very dangerous. Social media can compound the risks to young people. Many are unaware of the risks associated with sharing images and personal information online, particularly with the wide range of social media platforms available.”

She believes young people often struggle to navigate the online world and are ill equipped at identifying and reporting adults or content of concern.

“Abuse of children is everyone’s business and both parents and professionals need to work together to ensure young people are equipped with the skills to keep themselves safe.

“The Bethany Platt storyline in Coronation Street makes uncomfortable viewing but if it stops one young person from becoming a victim then it’s worth it. Parents and professionals need to have the skills and confidence to be having conversations with their children about healthy relationships."

Barnardo’s CSE and Missing Service, works specifically with vulnerable young people who have gone missing and are considered to be at risk of sexual exploitation.

Sarah-Jane said:

“There is a need for these children to have their voices heard and for us to understand the pressures and challenges being faced by some of our young people.

“I meet with the young person at a venue of their choice, often this is their home, and I will either be on my own or with a social worker, sometimes carers are present, sometimes not. It’s a voluntary service and I’m honest with them that I share information with other agencies so they can be found sooner if they go missing again. I can also access support from other services if appropriate.

“Every young person has a different story and often it is difficult for them to tell it, particularly if they don’t trust those around them. Many young people are unable to recognise that they have been groomed or exploited.

“We use the opportunity to allow the young person to reflect on their missing episode and identify any additional vulnerabilities and support needs. There may be family difficulties, substance misuse and other complex issues. Often we discuss ‘Keep Safe’ strategies, signs and indicators with young people to help them keep themselves and their peers safe.”

Part of Sarah-Jane’s role is to explain exactly what CSE and trafficking are and to talk through consent so the young person can recognise if they have been a victim. She also gives advice on staying safe in future, even simple things like ensuring the battery on their phone is always charged so they can call for help.

As one of the many strategies being deployed by South Wales Police to tackle CSE, there has been awareness raising events delivered to Police Community Support Officers so they are better equipped at identifying young people who are vulnerable or a victim of CSE. A teenager who might be demonstrating challenging behaviour in public could be reacting to a particular incident and may be in need of help to protect them.

Boys and young men in particular can be lured through a grooming process into gangs where they can easily become involved in drug running and sexual exploitation.

Sarah-Jane said:

“We have been welcomed by South Wales Police who see us as colleagues and we are working closely together to tackle what is a really challenging issue."

What parents can do:

Talk to your children regularly about the dangers of social media, meeting strangers and accepting gifts or lifts from people they don’t know well. Newspaper stories, soap opera storylines or magazines can be good starting points.

Book an appointment at an O2 phoneshop for advice on installing parental controls on devices.

The NSPCC has a simple guide to the social networks children are likely to use and advice for keeping them safe at www.net-aware.org.uk, an app is also available. The charity also has advice for parents on “talking PANTS” with their children, a simple way they can learn about appropriate boundaries, at www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/underwear-rule/.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection website (CEOP) run by the police has lots of advice and videos for staying safe at www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/.

The website www.missingpeople.org.uk/ was set up to provide advice and support for people of all ages who have gone missing or know someone who has.


For further information please contact Barnardo’s Cymru Media and Communications Manager Margaret O’Reilly on 029 2043 6229/07827 977830

Barnardo’s Cymru works with more than 8,000 young people and their families in 88 specialised projects in local communities across Wales.  This includes work with children affected by today’s most urgent issues: poverty, homelessness, disability, bereavement and abuse.

Thomas Barnardo’s vision was for no child to be turned away from the help they need. During its 150 year history the charity has helped transform the lives of millions of disadvantaged children in the UK, and continues to help families to build a better future. Last year 248,000 children, young people and families were supported by Barnardo’s through more than 996 services across the UK, such as young carers, care leavers, foster carers and adoptive parents, training and skills or parenting classes. Visit www.barnardos.org.uk to find out more. Follow Barnardo’s media team on Twitter @BarnardosNews

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