The eyes and ears of council workers in the community are being employed to help stamp out exploitation across Essex.
Following on from campaigns in Colchester and Braintree, councils in Essex, Southend and Thurrock are working together to deliver the Every Contact Counts initiative.
Up to 1,500 frontline council staff will receive face to face training on how to identify someone at risk of or subject to exploitation and how to help them.
The work received £10,000 funding as part of the Violence and Vulnerability Programme established by the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) and partners across Essex. The programme funds projects to reduce the risk of children, young people and adults at risk of being groomed into a life of crime and help those affected by gangs to take the steps to leave.
The 90-minute training sessions will be open to council receptionists, park wardens, housing officers, parking enforcement officers and anyone else whose role takes them into the community.
Fliss Ayre, senior commissioning officer, Essex County Council, said: “We want people in their everyday lives in the community who spot something they do not think is right to be able to identify it as exploitation, to know how to stop it and how to make a referral. If it is safe to do so, we want them to be empowered to respond; whether that be speaking with someone at risk or engaging them in conversation and referring their concerns on afterwards.
“Our officers may come across children or young people in their day to day work but may not have the safeguarding training to spot the signs of exploitation or grooming taking place. We are making them aware of the signs to look out for, with lots of examples and practical solutions. We want this to become just part of what is expected of everyone as part of their role.
“This is about upskilling our frontline staff who are more likely to come into contact with young people and vulnerable adults while working in the community. Having their eyes and ears open in the community makes tackling grooming and exploitation – whether that be gangs or modern slavery – everybody’s business. The more people we have aware of the signs and looking out for these vulnerable people, the more likely we are to intervene.”
On completion of the training, candidates will be given a handy pocket guide to act as a reminder of the resources and contact available to support victims.
The project is being rolled out through February and March, with two or three sessions being held in each district.
Delegates at the first three sessions described the training as eye opening by candidates with 91 per cent of delegates displayed increased knowledge, 97 per cent of delegates saying they were more confident to report incidents and 97 per cent said the session was relevant to their role.
Fliss said: “We are hoping to reach up to 1,500 people.
“The funding we have received from the PFCC enables us to roll this project out. Without the funding, we would not be able to put the sessions on, so it is vital support we are receiving.”
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Tackling serious violence and protecting young and vulnerable people are both key priorities in my Police and Crime Plan. We are working hard in Essex to tackle violence in our communities and are well ahead of other areas of the country. We have already created a Violence and Vulnerability Unit, have invested in a range of activities for young people at risk and strengthened our enforcement activities. We are investing in activities and interventions that stop the vulnerable being drawn into a life of crime and help those already involved to exit gangs safely.”
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