A new unit to protect young people and tackle exploitation is set to launch in 2019, the government has announced.
The unit will provide bespoke support to local authorities to help them with work towards tackling child sexual exploitation, trafficking, modern slavery and criminal exploitation.
Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins, said: "This government is committed to protecting children from all forms of exploitation and abuse, be it from county lines, gang activity or sexual abuse.
"This new unit, along with our £13million Trusted Relationships Fund and the Serious Violence Strategy, will provide vital support to children and help steer them away from destructive harms," she added.
The Department for Education will award a contract to run the new national response unit to support local practitioners to respond to these threats more effectively, which could include:
- providing advice and directing authorities to resources;
- an online forum for professionals;
- additional staff with experience in tackling particular areas of exploitation; and
- assessing an area’s needs, strengths and weaknesses in responding to exploitation threats.
Backed by £2m investment, the unit will operate from 2019 up until 2022 and will address child sexual exploitation as well as criminal exploitation, such as gang and drug activity, which also exploit vulnerable children and can lead to children going missing.
Children who go missing from home or care are vulnerable to exploitation from a range of criminal threats. The National Crime Agency revealed that over a third (35 per cent) of police forces reported evidence of child sexual exploitation in relation to county lines - where children and young people are exploited by criminals and used to traffic drugs in rural areas.
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "Exploitation of children in any form is an abhorrent crime and it is deeply saddening that vulnerable children and young people are prey to criminals.
"They are often at risk of multiple threats outside of their family lives, such as child sexual exploitation, gangs and county lines, and the new national unit will help local areas protect them from these threats and get the right support so they have the chance to succeed in life," he added.