£400,000 for project to protect Northamptonshire children from online dangers

The money will be used to continue educating youngsters on the methods of online grooming and exploitation that exist in their daily lives
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A project designed to protect Northamptonshire children from the dangers of online grooming, exploitation and abuse has received a funding boost of nearly £400,000.

The TARGET Project, run by Wellingborough-based charity Service Six, has been awarded nearly £400,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund which will allow the scheme to continue for another three years.

Through the TARGET Project, Service Six deliver workshops in schools across Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, highlighting online dangers and ways to keep safe, as well as offering individual one-to-one support to children and young people who have been or are at risk of becoming victims of online sexual abuse and/or grooming.

Since its introduction in 2017, each year, more than 5,000 children and young people have benefited from being involved with the TARGET Project, helping them to become safer while online, learn new skills and benefit from volunteering opportunities by becoming TARGET champions.

The TARGET Project was established after research carried out by Service Six and its partners highlighted some startling findings.

The study – involving more than 1,000 local children and young people - showed that over half those questioned were regularly contacted by strangers online.

36 per cent had received indecent sexual images including child images, a quarter of respondents had sent indecent sexual images to others, 19 per cent had been asked to meet a stranger, eight per cent had met strangers, but less than one child in 100 had reported these disturbing online incidents to an adult.

The TARGET Project is run by Service Six, which is based in WellingboroughThe TARGET Project is run by Service Six, which is based in Wellingborough
The TARGET Project is run by Service Six, which is based in Wellingborough

Service Six CEO Claudia Slabon said: “Much of our children’s and young people’s lives are now spent online; playing, socialising and interacting with others.

"The TARGET project helps to ensure that children and young people have the knowledge and skills to remain safe when they are meeting, talking and interacting with other people online”.

Service Six TARGET Project manager Claire Connelly said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive this funding from The National Lottery Community Fund which will allow us to deliver TARGET for another three years.

"We will use the money to continue to educate as many children and young people on the numerous methods of grooming and exploitation that exist in and around their daily lives online.

Service Six runs the TARGET ProjectService Six runs the TARGET Project
Service Six runs the TARGET Project

"Sadly, we work with many young people who have not been aware of these risks.

"We want to continue to raise awareness of the powerful and often times rapid effect that online child sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation can have on their lives.

"We want them all to know their online life is for healthy connection, fun and education but with that they need to be aware that their virtual life can have a negative sometimes life-changing effect on their real life.”

Commenting on lockdown, Claire said: “Due to the current situation and in the interests of safeguarding we are following government guidelines and have suspended all face to face delivery until further notice.

"In place of our usual delivery we have put measures in place to provide support to all current and future clients in the form of Zoom meetings; alternatively, if the young person would prefer, we can offer phone session and also What’s App is available.

"All of these platforms allow us to deliver support to our client and allow them choice in the method of delivery they feel more comfortable with.

"We have adapted quickly to the situation and are finding that many of the young people are comfortable with the online capability.

"We also provide a helpline from Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (07718 003219) for easy access to advice and support.”

Children and young people are spending more time online during lockdown and it is being widely reported that as a result levels of online abuse are rising.

It is now more vital than ever that parents and carers understand who children and young people are interacting with online and during these challenging times Service Six continues to provide support through the TARGET Project.

Claire added: “We have not yet seen an increased number of children and young people suffering from online abuse but fear that is simply because many do not have the usual scrutiny and support a school setting provides.

"We are in contact with all of our clients’ school safeguarding teams, social workers and early help teams to monitor the situation on an individual basis.

"We have had contact from some schools with arising safeguarding issues around online activities but we are yet to see significant increases.

"I fear this will change when measures are lifted.”

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