A host of prominent Welsh politicians, policy makers and police and crime commissioners came together in Cardiff today (19th July) at a special event organised by NYAS Cymru to tackle the criminal exploitation of children and young people who go missing from care.
As a result of the ‘Missing Children, County Lines and Exploitation’ event, a Wales-wide action plan will be drawn up with practical steps to reduce the number of care-experienced young people who are criminalised or at risk of exploitation.
The recommendations were developed by attendees at the event, who included senior Welsh Government officials, Welsh Assembly Members, charities and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. They were brought together by NYAS Cymru to explore the link between serious crime and care-experienced young people in a bid to try and address a surge in child criminal exploitation.
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 those children in the care system.
Statistics show that children and young people in care who go missing or run away 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.
This latest lobbying work from NYAS Cymru ties into the charity’s wider ‘Missing the Point’ campaign, which was launched at the Houses of Parliament last month. 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 run away and be at risk of exploitation.
NYAS Cymru National Executive Director, Sharon Lovell said, “Child criminal exploitation, including coercion into county lines networks, continues to hit the headlines and it’s clear that the issue needs to be addressed urgently if we are to prevent more vulnerable children in Wales from being exploited.
“That is why we have brought together politicians, Government officials, police and crime commissioners and charities that work with care-experienced children and young people to help stem the flow of young people going missing from care and experiencing criminal exploitation. We also worked with attendees to explore the child-centred policing model, which avoids children being criminalised when there are alternative solutions available.
“We are very grateful to the attendees for their commitment to helping us find a way forward and agreeing to combine our approach to improve young people’s lives. This is the first stage of developing a partnership of corporate parents that will provide the best possible support for vulnerable, care-experienced children and young people at risk of exploitation.”
Other charities and organisations participating in the event, which took place at The Temple of Peace, included Barnardos Cymru , Llamau, Voices from Care Cymru, Media Academy Wales, The Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services and Crimestoppers.