Changing picture of child exploitation

At least 184 Redbridge teenagers and children have been involved in ‘county lines’ drug dealing in the last year and a half.

Drugs operations involving the borough’s young people stretch as far as Wales, according to Redbridge Council’s missing children’s team.

Others have been found in Southampton, Exeter, Bath, Colchester and Ipswich.

A former crack cocaine user told a national newspaper in April last year that children as young as 12 delivered drugs in Ilford.

Speaking at a people scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday evening, Cllr Ross Hatfull (Lab, Valentines) said residents in his ward were frustrated to see “the same kids delivering drugs” months after reporting it to the police.

He added: “They are feeling that they tell police, they tell 101, they tell the safer neighbourhood team and do not see much happening very quickly, even though it’s serious.”

Redbridge Local Safeguarding Children Board chairman John Goldup said that “ongoing, consistent, hard work” was being done but that the “changing picture of child exploitation” was the board’s biggest challenge.

He said: “Whatever resources police are able to deploy, they know they are only scratching the surface. 

“They have been through an unstable period over the last year and are not able to respond as quickly as they would like.

“Young people do not recognise they are vulnerable and being exploited. It takes a very long time to establish the trusting relationship needed to work with them. 

“There is no urban area in the country that can claim to have cracked it.”

He added that the figure of 184 provided by the Mayor of London’s Rescue and Response Project was “probably an underestimate”.

The board report presented to the committee said the £5,000 given to police in each London borough by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime was “a disproportionately low contribution”.

It is estimated by the board to be 45 per cent lower per head than the police contribution “in all other large urban police forces in England”.

However, despite this Mr Goldup said a “culture of innovation” at the board had led to positive developments, including an increase in early intervention and fewer families needing “more invasive protection”.

In particular, the Families Together Hub, launched in the borough in May 2018, was described by Osted last year as a “highly successful service” which “prevents children from becoming looked after unnecessarily and protects children from some of the highest risks”.

The hub has partnered with Ilford-based community project Box Up Crime, which aims to get young people into boxing and away from gang activity.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter