Police officers and staff across Hertfordshire are lending a helping hand to the National Child Exploitation Awareness Day campaign today (Wednesday 18 March) by writing pledges on their palms to raise awareness.
The National Working Group’s (NWG’s) Helping Hands campaign aims to spread the word on the signs to look out for and how to report it.
Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Halo team, made up of police officers and staff dedicated to detecting, disrupting and preventing child exploitation, are leading on the force’s support for the campaign by posting photos of their ‘Helping Hands’ on social media, with the hashtags #CEADay20 and #HelpingHands.
The team, primarily based at police headquarters in Welwyn Garden City, has recently increased in size and is led by a Detective Inspector who is supported by two Detective Sergeants, four Detective Constables, four Police Constables and a Child Exploitation Disruption Co-ordinator.
The co-ordinator works with partner organisations* to deliver a multi-agency response to tackling child sexual exploitation in Hertfordshire.
Halo Detective Sergeant Marc Willmore said: ‘I’d like to start by reassuring the community that we do not have a serious issue with child exploitation in Hertfordshire, however by its very nature it is a difficult crime to investigate.
‘It is often under-reported due to victims not seeing themselves this way, because the offenders have groomed them into believing they are in a relationship.
‘Therefore investigations can often be protracted and require a lot of perseverance in building a rapport with a vulnerable young person so they trust that we are there to help them.
‘Despite the often upsetting situations we come across, our work has the capacity to be extremely rewarding. We are passionate about safeguarding children and young people, as well as disrupting and bringing to justice the perpetrators of child exploitation.
‘The enlarged team will allow us to make an even bigger difference to the lives of vulnerable victims.
‘It’s so important for us to come together with colleagues and partners in support of National Child Exploitation Awareness Day, and help give young people a voice at a time they may feel scared to speak.’
A recent recruitment drive has seen four new officers join the Halo team, and its increased capacity means it will provide further proactive support across the force’s safeguarding command, allowing resources to be targeted at those we consider most at risk as well as at those who are responsible for child exploitation.
This begins with all referrals referencing potential exploitation being sent to them directly for consideration, meaning investigations can be launched even earlier.
They will also be able to dedicate more time to proactive covert and overt work. A vital part of this involves the delivery of awareness training in the community, so people know to say something if they see something. The Child Exploitation Disruption Co-ordinator, supported by other members of the team, provides a training package to those working in sectors such as education, sports, leisure, hospitality and the night-time economy.
This in turn enables those in positions having direct contact with young people to learn how to spot the signs someone may be in a situation where they are being exploited, and how to make the appropriate organisations aware so action can be taken.
Internally, the team are also educating police officers and staff across the force on the signs to look out for and as a result they are becoming more equipped to identify CSE at a local level.
The Halo team recently set up a dedicated Twitter account @HertsPoliceHalo where they post regular updates on the vital partnership working they do, as well as regular information and material to help raise awareness of CSE plus how to identify and report it.
If you have concerns about a young person you can report them online at www.herts.police.uk/report, speak to an operator in the Force Communications Room via web chat here or call the non-emergency number 101. Please provide as much information as possible.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking directly with police, you can report information anonymously online to Fearless, Crimestoppers’ web resource for young people.
* Hertfordshire’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) consists of Police, Probation, Safeguarding Nurses and Children’s Services staff, all working together to share information, safeguard children, prevent delays for families and ensure they receive the right response and service at the right time.