A charity in Camberwell is calling for more help to stop young people from being exploited after identifying key groups of children who are more likely to fall through the gaps.
St Giles SOS Project, which offers direct intensive help for young people caught up in criminal exploitation, shared some stories of the young people they work with. These include Theo, who had been exploited to carry weapons and drugs by a gang.
Now 15, Theo is taking part in his first professional boxing match after working closely with his St Giles caseworker.
“I feel comfortable speaking to my caseworker, which I didn’t think would happen,” said Theo. “I can tell them anything and know that they will support me to do my best and have my back.
“They have helped me believe in myself.”
Theo’s story is one among hundreds for the charity, which has recently reached its 15th anniversary and in 2021 helped 1,704 children and young people who were vulnerable to child criminal exploitation.
St Giles’ frontline workers have now identified emerging problems with they fear will become more and more entrenched in society if they are not dealt with soon.
Their key requests include:
- More support for criminally exploited girls and young women – particularly those who are coming to hospitals with injuries and evidence of self-harming.
- Specialist mental health support services to address PTSD and other mental health needs experienced by young people who have been caught up in criminal exploitation.
- Increased youth support services for young people from disadvantaged communities who are disproportionately affected by the fallout of the pandemic.
- More help for parents and caregivers affected by child criminal exploitation, and recognition that they can be the best support structure that a young person can get.
The charity estimates each young person is given over 200 hours of intense support to help them to remain safe.
The St Giles SOS project was founded by Junior Smart in 2006 and was one of the first organisations to spot when young people were being exploited through county lines.
Junior said: “We invest hours of effort in our young people. We know that change for our young people is not easy. It takes many, many hours and resources to create just the spark in someone for them to realise that an exit from their lifestyle is possible. They then need ongoing and intensive support to ensure they don’t slip back into old habits.”