Police and Crime Commissioners from across Wales are set to come together with a host of prominent Welsh politicians and policy makers at a special event organised by NYAS Cymru to tackle the criminal exploitation of children who go missing from care.

The ‘Missing Children, County Lines and Exploitation’ event, which takes place on Friday the 19th July at The Temple of Peace in Cardiff, will see senior Welsh Government officials, Welsh Assembly Members, MPs, charities and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales unite to explore the link between serious crime and care-experienced young people.

Over 10,000 children are reported to the police as missing in Wales every year – approximately one child every hour – and almost half (43%) of missing children incidents in Wales relate to children in the care system.

Statistics show that care who go missing or runaway are disproportionately at risk of harm or danger, including sexual exploitation or grooming for criminal activity such as drug running on so-called ‘county lines’. They are also at an increased risk of being arrested or imprisoned; or being caught up in serious violence.

NYAS Cymru, a leading children’s rights charity that provides independent advocacy to children and young people in care across Wales, has facilitated the event to try and find urgent solutions to the problem.
The charity is committed to a rights-based approach to supporting the children and young people it works with, reducing their risk of exploitation and criminalisation. It recently secured £73,000 funding from Police and Crime Commissioners in Gwent and South Wales to fund projects aimed at supporting care-experienced young people at-risk of entering the criminal justice system and raising their aspirations.

Last month, NYAS Cymru launched its high-profile Missing the Point campaign at the Houses of Parliament. The campaign is aimed at ensuring the wishes and feelings of children who go missing from care are taken seriously by local councils, so they are less likely to runaway and be at risk of exploitation. NYAS Cymru wants to make sure that authorities work with children to keep them safe from serious harm and is working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults to help make this happen. The Cardiff event will enable NYAS Cymru to take its campaign messaging to key political influencers in Wales.

NYAS Cymru National Executive Director, Sharon Lovell said, “We’re bringing together politicians, Government officials, police bosses and charities that work with care-experienced children to try and help prevent even more young people from going missing from care and suffering at the hands of criminal exploitation. We also want to work with attendees to identify ways of preventing the criminalisation of vulnerable children and young people.

“NYAS Cymru supports the child-centred policing model, where no child should be criminalised when there are alternative solutions available. The event will provide us with an opportunity to ensure the voices of the children and young people we work with help to shape future policy decisions.

“Young people we work with have told us, repeatedly, that they are not being listened to when they are bounced between homes, sometimes several times in a year. This is pushing them to go missing and, in turn, this is placing them at risk of exploitation. The question we’ll be asking at the event is, ‘would this be good enough for my child and what can we do to change it?’”

The outcomes will be shared after the event, along with next steps.

Other charities and organisations participating in the event include Barnardos, Llamau, Voices from Care Cymru, Academy Wales, The Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services and Crimestoppers