Project to highlight dangers of criminal exploitation of young people in Norfolk receives praise
Thousands of young people across the county have benefitted from a specialist project aimed at highlighting the dangers of criminal exploitation and gangs - thanks to funding and support from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk (OPCCN).
National charity, St Giles, were first commissioned by OPCCN in November 2018 to run the SOS+ Project – with delivery beginning in April 2019.
St Giles received £89,028 under the Hidden Victims’ Fund and a further £87,737 under the Home Office’s Early Intervention Youth Fund to run the three-year project with an aim to provide 120 preventative sessions to around 8,600 schoolchildren in Norfolk.
Intensive one to one support was also offered for those deemed at high risk and awareness raising sessions delivered to parents and teachers. All funding was secured by the OPCCN.
An evaluation report has since revealed however – despite challenges posed by the pandemic – the project team ‘far exceeded’ its target with some 160 sessions being delivered to 12,130 children and young people at 42 different education settings.
Some 10 per cent of the education settings were primary schools, 19 per cent alternative provision, 19 per cent further education and 52 per cent high schools.
The report praises St Giles, who with support from the OPCCN, adapted their delivery style by introducing online webinars when the pandemic hit, ensuring guidance and support remained in place for children and young people.
By the end of each webinar – delivered by those with lived experience - it is hoped parents and professionals were able to understand the meaning of the term County Lines, understand the methods used to exploit young people, recognise key signs and indicators, and encourage healthy conversations with their children and /or students.
In a bid to get the message across during the pandemic, the team also created an animation, adapted for Key Stages 3 and 4, which told the story of Nathan who is groomed and exploited by his best friend’s brother.
Between April 2019 and December 2021, the project team also delivered 44 sessions for 1,198 teachers and other professionals and 22 sessions for more than 200 parents. As a result, some 49 referrals were made to the team for one-to-one mentoring for those deemed most at risk of exploitation.
Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Giles Orpen-Smellie, said: “I am immensely proud of the part my team has played in ensuring such a vital service has been embedded in the county to help children and young people at risk of criminal exploitation.
“The part my team also played with colleagues from St Giles, in making sure the service ran as smoothly as possible through the pandemic should not be under-played.
“It is a real testament to the commitment of all involved in this project that the message has been spread so widely to so many young people and vital one-to-one help given to those most at need.
“It is encouraging to see partners now taking the project forward so it can grow from strength to strength and help even more young people.”
Clare Bradley, Eastern Region Manager at St Giles, added: “We consider this to be a real achievement given the challenges we have experienced with recruitment and the Covid outbreak.
“We have worked tirelessly to adapt our delivery format to ensure that it remains accessible to all young people ensuring that the service could still be delivered.”
Feedback from professionals has revealed a reduction in reoffending for some young people who received one-to-one mentoring.
Thanks to the foundations laid by the OPCCN and St Giles through partnership work with organisations including Community Sports Foundation and the Early Intervention and Prevention lead at Norfolk County Council, the project is now likely to be extended to help even more young people and parents, providing specialist support where most needed.
Going forward, St Giles has been fortunate to secure future funding from a variety of sources, including Norfolk County Council’s European Social Fund Project Aspire as well as various charitable donations to provide an onward service in Norfolk for 2022/23 and contribute to a wider cross-county response to the criminal exploitation of young people.
Professional feedback has included:
“Feedback from our staff is really positive. The input from SOS+ was really good and got things moving. The mentoring is great – having the time to spend with young people is critical.”
“My expectations were exceeded – I thought it was brilliant. We would like to include the SOS+ sessions in our programmes next year. I really appreciate how beneficial it’s been…”
“The presenters were excellent, very honest about the risks and identifying what had gone wrong in their own lives, to educate others to not go down the same path.”
“Having the real-life experiences from the facilitators really enriched the learning experience of the students and tutors.”
A young person’s view….
Owen’s view of his support: “The school got her (SOS+ Mentor - known as H) involved because of my problems with anger management. I’m on my last chance at that school before I get permanently excluded. If I get into another fight that’ll be it.
H takes me out and we talk. I think it’s been pretty good for my mental health. I’ve got new perspectives on stuff – normally I would always resort to violence, but H has helped me to use words instead.
Just talking to H helps me. She’s a really nice person and she’s nice to me so I’ll listen to what she says. She’s helped me to see that the school I’m at is good. I can trust her with things too....I think with the help that she’s given me, I’ll be OK.”
Key features identified as a success of the SOS+ Project included:
· The lived experience of facilitator/mentors which provides highly impactful delivery of group sessions for young people, professionals and parents/carers, as well as giving the credibility that supports engagement with meaningful mentoring: “Talking from that personal space is really impactful. Someone who’s been through the pain and trauma. It’s not sterile and it hits home.”
· Genuinely specialist team with clear, current and detailed understanding of county lines presentation, and the context for risk and safeguarding, at local, regional and national levels: “All the presenters have a lot of subject knowledge, and from different parts of the country which is really helpful as county lines can look different in two different places like London and Norwich or out in the countryside. That’s so important because the young people need to have that knowledge.”
· Non-statutory and voluntary which encourages engagement for young people and families: “They’re not coming at it from a statutory point of view – it makes all the difference to how the young person will see it.”
· Flexible and responsive – responding to the pressures of the pandemic and to emerging needs of identified vulnerable young people: “St Giles have been very adaptable in dealing with Covid. I’ve been very impressed with their response. They have been proactive and forthcoming with solutions rather than waiting to be asked.”
· Partnership working – widening reach and participation, as well as enabling effective responses and flexibility of delivery: “The partnership working is really good. The project worker has very good communication – it’s clear and concise, and the sessions fit really well with our programme.”
A copy of the evaluation report into the scheme is available on request by emailing Clare.Bradley@stgilestrust.org.uk.