Victims, Perpetrators & Witnesses: Tackling Child Criminal Exploitation in Essex

Today we are pleased to launch our latest report ‘Victims, Perpetrators and Witnesses’: Tackling child criminal exploitation in Essex.

The report is informed by conversations with 15 children and young people, aged between 13 and 18, who are affected by or identified as being at risk of child criminal exploitation (CCE) and 35 professionals with experience of working to tackle CCE across the education, youth work, social care, community safety, local authority and criminal justice sectors.

The report highlights disagreement between professionals about the extent of CCE in Essex but overall agreement that it is important to consider exploited children and young people as victims, rather than perpetrators – which procedures should reflect.

The young people we spoke to sometimes described their local areas as lacking any type of ‘work culture’ and were often in alternatives to mainstream education, frequently following exclusion. A number had been involved with the criminal justice system or had a family member who had received a custodial sentence. The report examines the ways in which ‘gangs’ engage with these young people, including providing financial incentives, enhanced status, a sense of belonging or even protection.

Our conversations revealed that there are multiple services across the county to refer children and young people to but that it is difficult to judge the efficacy of those services. It also reveals that education professionals can feel overwhelmed by the severity of some of the issues they encounter, along with the expectation placed upon them to deliver interventions themselves.

Importantly, our research showed that, whilst professionals acknowledged the need for joint working to tackle the complex issue of CCE, the health sector were often missing from the conversation.

One of the organisations involved in the study was St. Giles Trust, who work with 25,000 individuals each year around CCE, unemployment and poverty and the criminal justice system across the country. A more localised contributor to the project was the sport for development charity, Achievement Through Football, who work with young people at risk of exclusion from education.

Hannah Fletcher, Healthwatch Essex Research Officer and author of the report said: “There’s no easy way for us to know the number of young people affected by CCE in Essex, but it’s important to hear these voices for us to understand the perspectives of those most closely involved with it.

“I heard very powerful stories of what life is like for these young people, what shapes their world and how they come to experience exploitation. There are multiple agencies working together to make Essex as safe a place as possible, and I hope that this report gives helpful insight to inform their approach as they tackle this challenging issue.”

The full report can be read here.