New measures to stop sex gangs

Minister Tim Loughton

Minister Tim Loughton

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MEASURES have been stepped up to protect vulnerable children in care from being preyed upon by perverts.

Fears have been raised nationally that youngsters in care are more at risk of being targeted – with Children’s minister Tim Loughton identifying the Fylde coast as a potential hot spot.

The MP has announced reforms to the child protection system in the wake of the sentencing in May of nine men who groomed and abused young girls in Rochdale.

There is no evidence to suggest children on the Fylde are more at risk, but Mr Loughton’s office said the coast has a high concentration of children’s homes and has to be closely watched.

The Awaken Project was set up following the disappearance of Blackpool schoolgirl Charlene Downes in 2003, to tackle the exploitation of vulnerable children.

And Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “The work carried out by the Awaken team has been valuable in focusing attention and resources on the issue of child sexual exploitation. As the world changes however, we too must change, and consider whether our response to emerging threats is appropriate.

“I’m working with the council’s newly appointed director of children’s services and the police to ensure we’re meeting the needs of children at risk of exploitation, and the services we provide are effective in keeping them safe.

“I met with the police last week to discuss new referral mechanisms to ensure no cases get missed, and am confident our new arrangements will be more effective than in the past.”

County Coun Tony Winder, lead member for looked-after children at Lancashire County Council, added: “We welcome the current debate about the safety of these vulnerable children.

“Many of the issues involved must be addressed. Here in Lancashire, we work very closely with partner agencies, including the police, to protect vulnerable children and to prevent them from becoming victims of sexual exploitation.”

A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “We recognise there may be a disproportionate risk of sexual exploitation of children in care, although the largest proportion comes from within families.

“We will study the report in detail and take on board any recommendations.”

Among the reforms ordered by ministers is the lifting of regulations which stop the authorities involved telling police and other agencies the location of children’s homes – a key concern in keeping children in care fully protected.

Mr Loughton said: “There are good children’s homes and excellent care workers but it is clear far too many of the most vulnerable children in society are being exposed to harm and danger.

“It is completely unacceptable existing rules are simply being ignored and that frankly, some local authorities and homes are letting down children by failing to act as a proper ‘parent’.”