A specialist child exploitation charity has held more than 60 sessions with local young people and families across Derbyshire since lockdown by using virtual platforms.

Safe and Sound supports children and young people across Derbyshire who are victims of or at risk of child exploitation – which includes sexual exploitation, gangs, County Lines, modern slavery and trafficking – as well as their families.

The specialist team has been using virtual platforms such as Facetime to complete sessions on a wide range of issues such as online grooming, privacy settings and healthy relationships.

Support for families has ranged from awareness of online activity to signposting for food banks and medical advice and the charity is sharing an online pack of bitesize information for families on the dangers facing young people.

Amongst those who has accessed the worksheets is a grandmother who contacted the charity asking for more information about online grooming.

She posted: “We have been very worried about my grandson who has been spending time on Minecraft and Roblox and getting very stressed and emotional.

“Thank you for the information you have sent and the work sheets that we can use to discuss this subject better with him.  In this day and age more than ever, we all need to know about the dangers facing young people online.”

Another key role for the charity is raising public awareness of child exploitation through sessions in schools and local communities and Safe and Sound is looking to do this through online education with sessions with virtual groups looking to upgrade their training during lockdown.

Safe and Sound CEO Tracy Harrison said:

“At present, we obviously can’t meet young people, families and the wider public face to face but, like many other professionals, we are learning how to best engage with people using virtual platforms.

“Our team is doing a fantastic job to adapt the way they work and we have had some great feedback from both young people and their families.

“The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned there could be a rise in online child sexual abuse offences during the Covid-19 pandemic, with its latest assessment showing there are at least 300,000 people in the UK posing a sexual threat to children.

“Therefore, the urgent focus during this time is obviously online grooming and ensuring young people have privacy settings in place.

“However, it is also an opportunity to look ahead to when we move out of lockdown and talk to young people about how to stay safe outdoors such as not engaging in conversations with strangers and recognising places of safety.”

She continued:

“Last year saw an all-time high of 18,000 children and young people being groomed and sexually exploited in the UK.

Research by the NSPCC also suggests that more than 200,000 secondary school children in the UK have received or been asked to send explicit messages or images online.

“Equally worrying is the rise in the wider criminal exploitation of young people such as County Lines with young boys and girls being forced into drugs operations and there is a growing incidence of trafficking and forcing young people into modern slavery.

“Whatever the motives of perpetrators, child exploitation can potentially destroy the lives of any young girl or boy – regardless of where they live, their family situation, cultural or social background.”

During the lockdown, Safe and Sound is available online for private conversations on Facebook with young people themselves, parents, other family members and fellow professionals between 10am and 11am and 3pm and 4pm or available by telephone on 07726 694680.

Messages received on Facebook or Instagram outside these times will be responded to daily and feedback to commonly asked questions will be anonymised and posted elsewhere on their website.

This is in addition to the usual ways to contact Safe and Sound between 9am and 5pm on 01332 362120 and email and anyone with urgent concerns about the wellbeing or safeguarding of a child or young person are advised to call 101.

For more information about Safe and Sound, information about the danger signs, support available and how to support the charity’s work, please visit the website and follow on social media channels.