Missing children's project involving Gwent Police, Aneurin Bevan Health Board and councils launches today
AN AMBITIOUS new project to stop missing young people from falling into sexual exploitation, crime and drug use will be officially launched today.
The Gwent Missing Children Project aims to assess the risks to children the first time they come to the attention of public services.
Children will be given the opportunity to talk to someone they can trust when they return – The Argus previously reported that the scheme is backed with £500,000 of cash from the Big Lottery Fund.
The so-called "missing children's hub" includes Gwent Police and Aneurin Bevan Health Board as well as council social and education workers, as well as an organisation to help counsel and support young people.
It is thought that young people may be more willing to speak to them than the police or other agencies.
Every month the force receives around 300 reports of children who have gone missing or have run away from home.
They can be at risk of harm from physical and sexual violence and exploitation, substance misuse, involvement in criminal activity and social and educational exclusion.
In 2011 police, health and social services in Gwent spent around £2.25 million on children who had run away three times or more.
Each agency is providing money to staff the team, while the Welsh Government is is coordinating the agencies taking part.
Gwent Police Deputy Chief Constable Jeff Farrar said: "I am totally convinced that the approach we are taking in joining together across public services to break the cycle for missing children will be truly ground breaking.
"This will set the standard for the way we respond to all vulnerable people."
Dr Andrew Goodall, chief executive of the Aneurin Bevan Health Board said: “We cannot afford to be complacent and this new team that works across agencies will ensure we all work together to try and protect every single child that goes missing.” The project is to be launched this morning at the Christchurch Centre, Malpas, Newport.
Newly installed minister for local government Lesley Griffiths said: “Anyone who has heard the stories of children repeatedly going missing will have been moved by them.
“Good public services can make a real difference to the lives of these young vulnerable young people and this project represents public services working together at its best.
LAURA, who is now an adult, went missing on and off for three years – from the time she was 13 to when she was 15.
Despite her mother being worried sick and the police going out look for her, Laura thought it was fun.
"You don’t realise what risks and dangers you put yourself through, when you’re so young and if you’re vulnerable," she said.
"You just think you’re with your friends, but you just need to take a step back and think they won’t be there for you when all hell breaks loose, they won’t be there at all."
"I never trusted anyone when I was younger, you’d get close to one social worker then you’d have a different one so they’d have to get to know you again .
"My ‘safe place’ was with my so-called friends but I look back now and it’s far from a safe place, it was like a war zone."