Child criminal exploitation is a major concern - Neil Wilson
As the final flurries of snow give way to spring, I’m sure many are looking forward to spending more time out and about in their neighbourhoods.
Our focus in the North West of the city remains firmly on protecting communities from harm and I’d like to highlight a concerning trend that we are working in collaboration with partners to address.
Child criminal exploitation involves young people being manipulated and coerced into supporting the activities of organised criminals. One of the most common formats is county lines, which sees children used to transport and distribute illicit drugs.
Those who seek to exploit youngsters employ sophisticated grooming methods, investing time, money and effort to build trusted relationships, often using financial rewards or gifts such as expensive clothing or trainers as the hook. One of the key challenges faced by police and other safeguarding agencies is the stigma attached to being branded a “grass”.
This results in a code of silence that empowers exploiters as victims routinely refuse to engage in investigations, which makes the job of evidencing such forms of abuse difficult. The compelling draw of money and status can be highly motivating for young people. However, the harms of becoming involved are often not considered until it’s too late.
Tackling this type of criminality requires a multifaceted approach delivered in partnership to ensure those responsible are held accountable for their actions while victims are supported and empowered. Traditional investigative and proactive policing is key to ensure we maximise detection and disrupt activity through high visibility patrolling of crime hotspots. It is imperative that we build the trust and confidence of local communities to come forward and speak out when they witness or have suspicions that child criminal exploitation is taking place.
Diversion and deterrence are equally important and rely on our collective ability, alongside all stakeholders, to engage with young people, gain their trust and develop mutual respect and understanding. This takes time, investment and effort and there are some fantastic examples of this work delivered by the diverse landscape of third sector youth groups and service providers which operate throughout the North West locality. Clearly schools also have a major role to play and through our dedicated School Link officers we highlight the dangers, risks and warning signs and promote positive life choices.
The ‘Pitching In’ programme represents an innovative approach in terms of relationship building using the medium of football to break down barriers, encourage dialogue and build trust, ensuring young people know where they can access help and support. Other diversionary approaches such as the SideStep project, delivered by Action for Children, employ a mix of young people’s practitioners and peer mentors to engage young people, working on both a one to one and group basis, to offer pathways out of criminality.
The City of Edinburgh Council is leading a pilot project to frame our understanding of, and response to, the challenges faced. Contextual Safeguarding recognises that as young people grow and develop, they are influenced by a whole range of environments and people outside their family and looks at how we can best understand these risks, engage with children and young people and help to keep them safe.
It is crucial that we recognise the important role we can all play and I would encourage parents and guardians to have open and honest conversations with their children about any concerns they may have.
Should you have any information in relation to child criminal exploitation, please report this by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency. Alternatively, you can report matters anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Chief Inspector Neil Wilson is Local Area Commander, North West Edinburgh