It is up to us all in Swindon to protect our children from criminal and sexual exploitation was the message to councillors from the borough’s experts. in keeping youngsters safe. And all councillors will be expected to play their part, by taking part in mandatory training on “County Lines” drug gangs exploiting children and youngsters in Swindon.

Detective Superintendent Deb Smith, head of public protection for Wiltshire Police, Jeannette Chipping who leads of child exploitation for the council and Huw Ford, the council’s Children's Services ICT manager spoke about what different agencies in the borough were doing to combats exploitation at the Children’s Oversight and Scrutiny meeting.

Ms Chipping said: “Much of child protection has until recently focused on abuse inside the home and the threat from the child’s family. More and more criminal and sexual exploitation is now coming from outside the home.” Her report said that 26 children have been identified as potentially being exploited by County Lined drug gangs, and 22 different addresses of vulnerable people used by ‘cuckooing’ groups to sell drugs.

Fifty-two children between the ages of 11-18, the majority girls, were identified in July as being at risk of sexual exploitation in Swindon, and eight girls were referred to Children’s Services over concerns about female genital mutilation. Four girls were from the same family, whose mother said there was a risk of the girls suffering the practice of the family, which sought asylum in the UK, was sent back to its home country.

Ms Chipping said there was not much of a correlation between income and risk to children: "We've had A Level students who have become victims of criminal exploitation. In many ways just being a teenager is a vulnerability and social media means it can be anywhere."

She added that gangs are known to book Air BnB accommodation for children they are exploiting and then move on after a few days: "They are always one step ahead of us."

The report added that there are no known organised grooming gangs sexually exploiting children in Swindon or Wiltshire.

DS Smith said: “The police have finite resources, the council and schools have finite resources. We need people in the community to help us - be our eyes and ears on the street. If you see suspicious behaviour report it, tell us.

Ms Chipping added: “It’s up to all of us to look after our children in Swindon.”

The committee called for the council to increase awareness in schools to highlight and help to tackle the problem, cross party support for County Lines work and compulsory, up to date County Lines training sessions for all members of the council.

'Children don't understand'

TEENAGERS don’t understand that swapping sexual images via social media with a boyfriend or girlfriend is a criminal offence.

Alison Paul representing the Association of Swindon Special Schools Headteachers, told children’s oversight and scrutiny committee: “I speak to my son’s friends and they say it’s just something they do. They don’t get that it could get them into trouble.”

Det Supt Deb Smith said young people themselves could explain the seriousness. She said: “A shorty, snappy podcast made by media students at college, in a way that will get through to young people and put out on the ever-growing list of apps we will barely have heard of, let alone use, is our approach.”