Vulnerable youngsters helped to make better choices
Children who go missing from home are being helped on to a better path by discussing their issues.
Every child who goes missing is entitled to an independent Return Home interview, which is a statutory requirement. In Essex, the wording was changed to Missing Chats to make it less scary.
Under Missing Chats, there is a programme called Choices is a peer-led six-week group programme for young women essentially who are at risk of going missing but also who are at risk of child exploitation. It also has an intensive one to one part linked to Missing Chats, for those who go missing regularly or are at risk of child exploitation.
The project has received £30,000 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.
Sheila Woodward, Essex County Council Service Manager Children & Families, said: “Having this money means more young people can benefit from the programme, both by actively engaging but also through word of mouth. Young people pass on their learning to their peers through conversation and interaction, therefore shaping a wider group of young people’s knowledge and understanding.”
The funding is supporting –
• intensive support for ten young people on a one to one basis
• two six-week peer development groups for young women aged 13 to 16 in Basildon
• a pilot transition group for young women aged over 16 living independently
• a 20-week programme for young men aged over 12
• a monthly group enabling young people to continue to access support after their intensive engagement
The Choices programme enables the team to look more widely at missing children, in terms of individual missing chats and intensive one to one and group work for those young people who go missing and have a risk of child exploitation.
Children are allocated a Choices worker who works with them, their parents and social worker to explore the opportunities available to best support them.
The idea of the programme is to build positive relationships with young people, giving them time to build trust and to feel safe before they are able to fully engage.
Conversations take place to touch on –
• understanding relationships and how to recognise when they go wrong
• feeling under pressure – exploring risks, behaviours and responses, including going missing
• consent and the law – how it protects young people
• exploitation and grooming – what it looks like
• building resilience and self- esteem
• where to go for support and advice
Sheila said: “Through this, young people are encouraged to explore and build their understanding and awareness of the issues going on in their lives, risk and exploitation in a safe way, while providing awareness around grooming, risk, consent and relationship abuse. it focuses on building the young person’s sense of self-worth, feelings of self-efficacy and strengths.
“Choices is about providing a safe place to learn and understand and reflect. A positive outcome may be disclosure or seeking help, but these must not be the criteria for success, as the simple engagement may in itself create disruption enabling the young person space to think.”
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “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.
“By investing in programmes like this one with partners across the county we are reaching out and tackling the root causes of gang activity while also robustly dealing with those who commit offences.”