A Wales-wide action plan, setting out practical steps to reduce the number of care-experienced young people who are criminalised or at risk of exploitation, is to be developed after children’s rights charity NYAS Cymru brought together a host of prominent Welsh politicians, policy makers and police and crime commissioners to tackle the issue at an event, held in Cardiff last week.
As a direct result of that meeting, NYAS Cymru is now forming a Wales Steering Group. The group will drive forward an action plan designed to prevent more care-experienced children and young people from being exploited or criminalised.
In developing a plan to address the issue, the Wales Steering Group will focus on five objectives. These include mapping out a national picture of return interviews, which local authorities are required to offer to all children who run away or go missing from care, and developing a code of best practice for return interview providers. The plan will also aim to endorse a child’s rights approach to policing, to help prevent the criminalisation of young people in care and build bridges between the police and care-experienced young people.
Other objectives include examining the extension of duties and/or statutory guidance, to ensure corporate parenting across Wales is consistently keeping children and young people safe, and developing a joined-up strategy for missing, exploitation and county lines intervention work with 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 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 influencing 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 want to work with 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 want our steering group to explore the child-centred policing model, which avoids children being criminalised when there are alternative solutions available.
“We are very grateful to all those involved 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.”
NYAS Cymru will be hosting the first Wales Steering Group meeting on the 27th of September 2019.