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Protect children and break the cycle of crime

Much more needs to be done to protect children from harm if we are to prevent them growing up to become criminals or victims of crime, Alun Michael, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales has warned.

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He was speaking at a conference on child sexual exploitation (CSE) organised by Barnardo’s Cymru which is marking 10 years of work preventing CSE and supporting its victims.

Mr Michael said that research from Public Health Wales showed that young people who were protected from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as domestic violence and sexual or physical abuse were far less likely to get caught up in crime and its effects in adulthood,

Speaking in Cardiff to a wide ranging audience of professionals working in education, health, social services and criminal justice he said:

While it has been clear for years that bad experiences early in life, lead to damage in terms of health and in terms of the likelihood of becoming an offender or a victim, recent work  by Public Health Wales quantifies that and tells us how much can change if we ameliorate action."

There is the potential to cut by 65% those who end up in prison or by 57% those who become victims. They are just two statistics which show why we need every agency and stakeholder to act. The implications are clear for cutting crime and for improving health whilst delivering the ambition for safer, confident communities throughout Wales.”

At a similar event organised by Barnardo’s Cymru in North Wales Ann Griffith, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, said that everyone had to work together to spot vulnerable young people and prevent them falling into sexual exploitation.

GPs, teachers, school catering staff, playground helpers and a myriad of others need to know about CSE. Police investigations alone won’t effectively tackle the issues,”

said Ms Griffith.

Keith Towler, Vice Chair of the National Independent Safeguarding Board set up by the Welsh Government said everyone had a responsibility to listen to children and take them seriously in order to safeguard them from harm.

Meinir Williams-Jones, Assistant Director of Children’s Services with Barnardo’s Cymru, said there were many challenges to tackling CSE, ranging from online abuse, sexting, peer to peer pressure and the easy availability of porn which means that some young people are growing up with skewed views of normal sexual behaviour.

She said:

CSE provision looks different across Wales. There are interventions which can protect and prevent CSE victims but it is a postcode lottery and depends on the services commissioned and the knowledge in each area.”

Her view was echoed by Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, who said it is vital for children to receive a consistent response wherever they live.

There are still some real gaps. There’s a need for universal education and help for those most at risk. There are some excellent services but we need to make sure they are consistently available,”

Barnardo’s Cymru is working on the three-year Gwella Project with Cardiff University to study the links between CSE and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The charity is calling for long-term interventions with children at risk to help them build resilience and make healthy choices for the future.

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Delegates were able to take part in a range of workshops including prevention through education, the sexual exploitation of boys, gang exploitation and safeguarding in the NHS.

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