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ESSEX

Helping young people spot the signs of grooming

A young boy being unknowingly groomed by a drug dealer has had his eyes opened thanks to a campaign against county lines and gangs.

UTurn was established in November 2019 to offer free, confidential information, support and practical help to young people experiencing personal and socially challenging life situations.

In collaboration with Essex Police and schools in Tendring, a pilot project was launched to provide secondary school students at risk of County Lines and gang involvement, one to one and group mentoring.

Shani Jackson, UTurn director, said, “One teenager stated the course didn’t apply to him, but he also said he had been given new clothes and new trainers from someone that was associated with his mum, online. He had been given packages that he had to deliver and a mobile phone.

“He didn’t realise that he was being groomed by a drug dealer. He was shocked, but because of the pilot intervention, he was made aware of his situation and we were able to provide him with the help he needed. Had the young man not been subject to mentoring sessions, it’s probable that his situation would have escalated and got a lot worse.”

Tania Swanson, co-director for UTurn, added: “Unfortunately, the boy in question was not alone in his unawareness regarding the risks of being groomed and getting caught-up in this culture. We aren’t professing to saving these young people, but we are providing them with the knowledge that could be crucial in them becoming aware of the dangers and helping them to make safer, better choices. Evidence suggests prior to the education about this topic that young people showed a consistent lack of awareness.”

The seven-week project has been designed to give young people a better understanding of county lines, knife crime, the effects of it and to create measures to assist in preventing victimisation and reoffending.

The work received £12,000 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 young and vulnerable people being groomed into a life of crime and help those affected by gangs to take the steps to leave. A further £10,000 was given by the PFCC in the form of a crime and disorder reduction grant from the 2019/2020 Community Safety Fund.
The charity helps to keep young people in education, to realise their potential and to educate and raise awareness of gang culture and youth violence.

Shani said: “We are taking young people into police custody suites to show them what happens when someone is arrested to give them that discouraging sense of reality. We are working with the NHS and the Red Cross to deliver hard-hitting messages and to teach them how to handle situations such as wounding and bleeding as we are aware that young people could find themselves in these emergency situations.”

Tania added: “UTurn is about empowering and supporting young people to improve their life outcomes for a more positive future. As a result of the funding, we have been able to deliver a pilot project vital to providing early support and advice on county lines and knife related violence.”

With schools closing due to the Coronavirus, students have been signed up to start another seven-week course from September but, in the interim, the UTurn team hopes to continue to reach out to young people via video calls and in the community with the police during the pandemic.

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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