Charity is protecting children by helping to rebuild their lives

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Once hardly spoken of in polite circles, the spotlight is now being shone on both historic and present child abuse.

And one charity leading the way in protecting and helping victims is the NSPCC.

The charity has now set up a base in Luton on Adelaide Street, aiming to reach out to children and young people who have been or are at risk of being abused.

Working with the police and local council its case workers help children who have been abused and those who have been or are thought to be at risk of grooming.

Luton has particular issues with the risks of child sexual exploitation (CSE) partly because of its geographical location says service manager Alison Stewart Ross. Both the motorway and the airport mean youngsters can be trafficked in and moved on.

A transient population, with many people being here less that 15 years, means youngsters and their families often fail to put down vital roots, which can make teenagers vulnerable to grooming gangs.

Currently, the Luton caseload has more than 30 teenagers on its Protect and Respect programme.

“The issue is getting to them in the first place,” said Alison. “They don’t realise they are being groomed.

“They think they are being adult and they don’t want to talk about it.

“The aim is to head off the risky behaviour. It’s very difficult for them to rebuild their lives, it blights their confidence.”

Protect and Respect deals with 11-19 year olds in a six month programme with youngsters at risk or who have already been groomed and abused.

Although it mainly deals with girls, there is currently one boy on the programme, along with 17 white British, 11 Asian girls, two Polish and two mixed race girls.

There are plans to set up a parent group.

“If you get them early enough and refocus them you will stop that child wanting to behave dangerously,” said Alison.

Letting The Future In is another programme designed to help 4-17 year olds who authorities know been abused or there is a reasonable acceptance that they have been abused.

The charity works with social services to identify those children at risk or who have been abused.

Once the child is in a place of safety, case workers help them - through play or storytelling, writing and art among other things - to work through their experiences and understand and move on from what has happened to them.

“It is amazing to watch what you can do in six months,” said Alison. “We help them through.”