POLICE and council staff working to stop child sexual exploitation say they must not be complacent in their work to protect vulnerable children from being groomed.

During Child Sexual Exploitation awareness week, police, social workers and mental health experts have revealed how they work together under the Emerald team to stop children from being exploited.

Groomers often buy presents such as mobile phones or jewellery to befriend and start relationships with young people before exploiting them mentally, physically or sexually. Victims can also be pressurised into selling drugs through County Lines gangs or exchanging sex for drugs.

The Emerald team was formed in 2015 to tackle CSE and works from Wiltshire Council offices.

Daryl Davis is an inspector for Wiltshire Police and He has been with the police for 41 years and specialised in child protection in 1992. He part of the Emerald team. He said: “We have the time to build a relationship with a vulnerable young person and so we have had times where they might have gone missing and be picked up by police but say they will only speak to one of us because we have worked with them.We do not look like typical police, we want to be approachable and people they can trust. We get to know them and investigate anything that could be criminal activity.”

Mr Davis was the first officer to enforce a Child Abduction Warning Notice placed on a man in Wiltshire who was suspected of grooming children.

Despite a difficulty in proving exploitation and getting criminal convictions, a Child Abduction Warning Notice can be used to stop people from making contact with a child that it is thought they could have groomed and can be arrested if they do so.

Lauren Martin is a social worker and said: “Sometimes people are scared or do not even realise they are being exploited because they see themselves in a loving relationship.”

Roger Duncan, of the child and adult mental health service (CAMHS), added: “It can take a long time for them to work through what has happened and realise that they have been in an exploitative relationship.

“What we have found is that nearly every case is unique so it is not always related to mental health. We work to help that person in whatever way they need, and can do that because of the multi-agency working.”

Despite Wiltshire being one of the safest counties to live in,

Every time a child goes missing and is later found, they meet one of the Emerald team

Service manager Andrea Brazier said: “Although we live in a very safe place, we must be proactive. Some of the tricks used are sophisticated and many rely on trust to make the person think that they are in a relationship when they are really being exploited.

“There are instances where they really do think they are in love. Although it might start like that, over time it changes from loving to abusive. It is not always until after that a young person might realise that it was not a loving relationship after all. The community is our eyes and ears for spotting signs someone might be being exploited.”

DI Mark Kent, force tactical lead for CSE, said: “Although some people doing this are sophisticated, most are not in gangs and it is just one person and it is all about manipulation. There are various models used, that include buying gifts and making people feel like they are in a relationship. They target not only young people but vulnerable people.”

74 children were successfully removed from abuse by the team in 2018.

Cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Laura Mayes said: “Awareness is increasing, which I think is essential, and we are also finding criminal exploitation including County Lines and joining gangs. This service is continuing to evolve according to the changes in our society. We know that children are being exploited so it is essential our work is disrupting criminality."

“We need to do everything we can to stop it.”