Taxi drivers across the borough of Southend are being trained to spot the signs of child exploitation in a programme designed to crack down on county lines activity.
The training, now a condition of a taxi licence, has been commissioned by the children’s services team at Sothend council.
The course was co-designed with taxi drivers themselves, to ensure the children’s services team’s in-depth knowledge of how children are drawn into county lines activity resonates with drivers.
Participants come away from the course with clear and practical information on the warning signs that they may be able to spot as drivers, and how they can report them.
Further training courses are being run to create 100 additional champions in the community, to help tackle child exploitation. These champions will include charity workers, schools, healthcare workers, the probation service and more.
“County lines” refers to how criminal gangs transport drugs and money around the country from large cities in to smaller towns. They use children to transport these drugs, enticing them in initially with gifts of clothing, bags, the latest phones, trainers and other gear, before suddenly becoming violent and threatening, and making the child feel there’s no way of leaving the life they have been hooked in to.
Carl Robinson, director of public protection said: “I appreciate taxi drivers taking the time to be trained on child and criminal exploitation, and for their overwhelmingly positive feedback on the course.
“They are an important link in our chain and their vigilance and reporting of the signs they may see as they go about their job will help keep our children safe.
“This training programme shows there’s nowhere to hide in our borough, for those looking to exploit our children. Along with our partners, which include the police, the NHS, schools and others, we are tackling this firmly from all angles.
Training taxi drivers gives us another fleet of people on the ground, who are on the look-out for child exploitation.”
Carol Compton, head of service for early help, family support and youth offending services, said: “We should all be aware of the signs that we ourselves could spot, so we can play our part in halting this abuse of our children.
“There is no stereotypical child that will be exploited and these criminals often target children who are thought to be less likely to be arrested. It could be any of our own children.
“Signs include children being befriended by older controlling adults and changing their usual friendship groups, receiving new clothes and gadgets, and then going missing from school or home.
“Full information on the signs is at www.seethesigns.org.uk. I encourage everyone to familiarise themselves with this website and to use it to report anything, no matter how small. This site doesn’t track IP addresses and is completely anonymous. Please don’t be afraid of reporting something you’re worried about – it’s better we know, so we can help.
“Our children’s services team and our partners are experienced in helping children out of these situations, and together they are working to make Southend an impenetrable place for the criminals who arrive here looking to exploit our children.
“I would like to personally thank our staff for the huge impact they have on our children’s lives, and for their determination and dedication to eradicating exploitation in Southend.”