North Yorkshire and City of York councils are two of only 11 authorities in the country to receive over £1m in Home Office funding for innovative work to help divert young people away from county lines, gang crime and sexual exploitation.
The Government’s £11.5 million Trusted Relationships Fund has been set up to help social workers, police, nurses and other professionals form close, protective relationships with children and young people at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation.
The Yorkshire project, called The Spheres Project, is a joint bid between North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council; it also brings in other partners such as North Yorkshire police, and Health agencies.
It aims to foster positive and long-term relationships between vulnerable children and young people at risk of exploitation and trained individuals including service experienced young adults, mentors, and trusted adults already known to the children.
“North Yorkshire and York councils welcome this funding as it will enable us to extend our already established innovative, multi-agency work in supporting children at risk of exploitation,” said County Councillor Janet Sanderson, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for the Children and Young People’s Service.
“North Yorkshire has a strong reputation as a Partner in Practice with Government for trialling and developing new methods and we want to test new ways of working which will provide young people at risk and subject to exploitation with strong support networks and trusted and resilient relationships.”
Cllr Keith Myers, City of York executive member for education, children and young people, said: “Child exploitation is a problem in each and every community across the country and it’s vital that we work together with partners to support and protect our most vulnerable young people. We have a strong track record of working with organisations in the city and across the county on issues of child protection and crime and this funding will enable us to further progress some of the innovative work we’ve done to date.”
The exploitation of young people due to County Lines criminal networks is a growing issue in North Yorkshire and York. There is evidence of active networks operating in Scarborough, York and in the rest of the county. Networks from Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester continue to feature.
Intelligence shows that children are being trafficked to different parts of the country in order to supply drugs. Violence and threats are associated with most County Lines networks within North Yorkshire and York, and the carrying of weapons, such as knives and machetes is a feature.
At the heart of the North Yorkshire and York bid is the ambition to disrupt the County Lines network by diverting the most vulnerable young people away from risk through effective support networks.
In York, this will be done through volunteers who will be trained as mentors to at-risk young people. In North Yorkshire it will be through the development of the Restorative Academy. This is a unique scheme involving young people aged 16-25 who have all had previous involvement with Children and Families services. Some will have experienced exploitation and abuse.
As members of the Restorative Academy they are trained in restorative practice and contracted as relief workers to establish a trusted relationship with vulnerable young people to help to build resilience and self-esteem. Some of the funding will be used to increase the number of relief workers and to train them and pay them for their work, which will also be accredited. The idea is to match relief workers with vulnerable young people at risk who are experiencing things they went through.
Sally, 19, already works as a restorative practice relief worker. She said: “I had a lot of challenges in my life at home and I moved out when I was 16 with the support of a Family Outreach Worker. So other young people see me as somebody they can talk to. When I tell them about my experiences they talk to me when they won’t talk to other people. That way I can make sure their voices are heard and we can start to move forward.”
The funding will also help to widen the scope of Family Group Conferencing which is already used to identify a long-term support network work for at-risk children and young people from their extended families or from trusted adults in their lives such as a former teacher.
“This is a very exciting development for York and North Yorkshire,” said Cllr Sanderson. “We are aware of the growing risk of County Lines and this funding will enable us to develop the innovative practice necessary to help to combat this very real and present danger to our most vulnerable young people.”
Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins, said: “Early intervention is so important to steer vulnerable young people away from abuse and harms. I am delighted that the Trusted Relationships fund will provide vital support to children in the North Yorkshire and York areas.”