A service introduced to help protect youngsters following the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham is getting requests for one-to-one help in primary schools over fears that pupils’ safety is at risk online and they are viewing pornography.
The ReachOut service was introduced more than two years ago as a response to the revelations that huge numbers of youngsters had been sexually exploited over an extended period by criminals and since then it has worked to help keep large numbers of children safe from predators by either working with them on a one-to-one basis, or by doing so through work in schools and colleges.
Academics from the University of Bedfordshire are now working to evaluate just how successful the work so far has been, with 260 vulnerable children getting one to one support through the service, which is operated by Barnardo’s on behalf of the council.
Of that total, 39 were referred to the service between October last year and March, with requests for help “commonly due to concerns around inappropriate/unsafe relationships, online safety and image sharing. Inevitably as the work progresses additional vulnerabilities are often identified,” states a report to Rotherham councillors.
“Of those referred, 85 per cent are aged 11-15 but they are also receiving a number of enquiries from primary schools concerned about children’s online safety and their access to porongraphy.”
The overall objective of ReachOut is to ensure the town is a safe and supportive environment for children and part of that involves providing children with a solid education on healthy relationships.
That has included work in schools, with a programme called Real Love Rocks and a ‘Train the Trainer’ programme has also been instigated, to provide staff in schools with the knowledge needed to run the scheme themselves, with 25 going through the training since the autumn.
The report tells councillors: “There is currently a reserve list for schools wishing to have train the trainer training.
“Their aim over the next six months is to ensure those on the reserve list are able to complete the training and following this, they will evaluate whether further train the trainer sessions are needed.”
More than 1,000 secondary and primary pupils have provided feedback and, the report states: “These clearly indicate that the programme achieves its immediate learning outcomes for a high proportion of participants.
“In addition, 90 per cent of primary students and 92 per cent of secondary students felt able to join in or ask questions if they wanted to.
“Large numbers of primary and secondary students had discussed ReachOut sessions outside the classroom. This is a good indication of awareness, engagement and relevance. Many primary and secondary students had talked to friends and around a quarter of secondary and over a third of primary children had talked to their parents/carers about RLR.
“Perhaps most importantly in terms of impact and retention students enjoyed the sessions with over half of primary pupils reporting that they enjoyed them ‘a lot’.”
By March, more than 2,300 pupils had been through the Real Love Rocks programme.
The ReachOut service has had success in working with Roma/Slovak communities in parts of the town, but it is acknowledged they have “not had the same success in engaging with local Asian families”.
A new worker, said to be a ‘well respected’ member of the Asian community, has now been recruited to make progress in that area and further work will be done to provide fresh ways to raise awareness with minority families of the potential sexual exploitation of Asian girls and young women in Rotherham.