Inside The Children’s Society’s Look Closer campaign

The Children’s Society’s Look Closer campaign, which encourages not just professionals and family members, but also the public to look out for signs that a child may be at risk of being abused or groomed and exploited – for instance into county lines drug dealing, or for sexual exploitation – and report any concerns to the police.

The campaign is run in partnership with the National County Lines Coordination Centre and police forces across the country including the British Transport Police. As lockdown eases there may be more opportunities to spot children at risk. Any child or young person from any community can be vulnerable to being groomed, exploited and abused inside or outside the home. But they may not raise concerns because they have been manipulated and may not see themselves as victims – or they may be too afraid amid threats of violence.

During the Look Closer Awareness Week in England and Wales, staff from The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme will be offering online training sessions to everyone from professionals across police forces, local authorities, to employees working in the hotel, banking and transport sectors, churches and to staff at professional football clubs including community outreach coaches.

Resources including posters, leaflets and social media content will be shared with these groups as well as around 250k members of the Institute of Couriers (DPD etc), taxi drivers, street pastors, housing associations, businesses, and train and bus companies (some of this may vary in different areas) while the campaign will be promoted on digital billboards at a number of rail stations.  Police forces across the country are supporting the campaign and during the week they will be helping to raise awareness of its importance among both their own officers and staff, as well as the wider public.

James Simmonds-Read, National Programme Manager at The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, which runs the #Look Closer campaign, said spotting the signs of exploitation wasn’t just a matter for parents and professionals.

“While lockdown meant children being exploited were often hidden from the view of professionals and the public, the easing of restrictions means there are now more opportunities for us all to spot the warning signs,” he said.

“Predators have adapted their methods to continue to prey on children during the pandemic – taking advantage of young people’s isolation, worries about family finances and problems at home to groom them with cash, gifts, friendship and status.

“This might be to carry drugs in ‘county lines’ operations or for sexual or labour exploitation and once they have reeled children in, perpetrators use terrifying threats and violence to ensure their continued compliance.

“Through our Look Closer campaign we are urging anyone who encounters children in their daily lives – from morning commuters and delivery drivers to hotel and shop staff – to report any concerns that a child might be being exploited to the police.

“Places like train stations, parks, shopping centres, banks and taxis, may all be used in the grooming and exploitation of children and the internet is also a public space. We want the public, as well as parents and carers, to be vigilant for signs of exploitation through gaming and social media and there have been increased reports of online grooming under lockdown.

“It’s vital people look beyond the obvious because exploited children may not always appear upset or vulnerable or behave in the way we would expect victims to. We know trauma may cause them to appear angry or aggressive and they are often manipulated into thinking they are making a choice.

“Contacting the police with concerns about a child could be a crucial first step in helping a child escape a situation of horrific abuse and unimaginable trauma.”

The Children’s Society is urging people to report any concerns to the police on 101. If on a train you can text British Transport Police on 61016. Dial 999 if there is an immediate risk to a child. If you want to remain completely anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online or call the helpline on 0800 555111. If you’re a parent or carer looking for advice, or a professional in need of information and guidance you can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.

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What are the key signs a child or young person could be at risk?

– Children travelling alone, especially if this is late at night or on a regular basis. If they are being criminally exploited they may be sent significant distances and may be missing from home.

– They may lost or appear as though they are in unfamiliar surroundings.

– They may appear anxious, frightened or angry, but they may also appear disruptive or aggressive – a common response to trauma.

– They might appear under the control or instruction of others, including people who are older than them and do not appear to be family members.

– You may see them with large amounts of cash.

– Signs of a child being at risk online, could include them talking about older or new friends they have met online, talking about gifts or money they have received online, receiving large numbers of calls or messages, being worried about being away from their phone and having a new phone or more than one phone. Learn about online safety, talk to them about it and take as much interest in their friends online as you would offline friends.

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