The Bigger Picture- a different approach to child criminal exploitation.

I was part of a tight-knit, economically deprived community. I feel like there’s a kind of tolerance within these communities, because everyone is struggling financially, trying to find their way to survive, day by day.

When my son was targeted for child criminal exploitation, it wasn’t by some random stranger, but by young men I’d known as babies. Whilst my priority was to keep my son safe, I was also aware that the exploiters were the sons of my community who had themselves been targeted and exploited. They are the foot soldiers, the pawns, of a more organised network and the people at the top of that group never seem to be brought to justice. I had a desire to connect with the exploiters of my son, engage them, help them find a route out, because the truth is, nobody else is doing that. The funding crisis and austerity measures are hitting communities like mine hard- there aren’t youth clubs, mentors, projects to support young people. My feelings about it all are complex.

There were actions being taken by the organised crime group though that I couldn’t accept and I made the decision to work with agencies. To be honest, it didn’t work out so great for me or my son. Due to the risks to me, I have had to move to a different area where I feel isolated and alone. The lack of agreement amongst agencies about the actions to be taken, has left my son at continued risk. The activities of the organised crime group have continued.

When I reflect on how it all unfolded, I feel frustration, disappointment and I have this sense that there should be a different approach. What I see is that there is an ongoing cycle of children being targeted by organised crime groups, agencies unable to protect them and dismantle these groups and then these children becoming the next generation of recruiters. The attitudes by the authorities tends to focus on punishment of the children, rather than engagement and diversion. I was willing to work with the agencies and the police, but the problem was, I don’t feel like they were willing to work with me. When I’d ask for the information, I was sharing, to be responded to in certain ways, understanding as I did how my community worked and the risks posed, agencies did the opposite and put me and my family at risk.

I wish that the response to child criminal exploitation could be responded to differently, in a way that saw the bigger picture. I wish that agencies could work in true partnership with families, communities and with each other. I wish that there could be a response of engagement, of mentoring, of support for those affected. I wish that the funds put aside for criminalisation of those affected, could also be put aside for prevention and support.