A CHARITY has issued a desperate plea for people who would consider fostering sexually-exploited children.
Barnardo’s North East is appealing for people in Hartlepool and east Durham to offer a safe, caring and secure home to young people who have been groomed or sexually-exploited.
Applicants could be asked to look after children as young as 12 or 13 as part of the pilot scheme, run by the Department For Education’s Safer Accommodation project.
Bosses at the charity say child abuse is a growing problem, which was hidden for a number of years.
But they say more knowledge of exploitation is now available.
Shirley Storey, who is co-ordinating foster care placements for Barnardo’s North East fostering and adoption team, based in County Durham, said: “It was hidden for a number of years and the signs of sexual exploitation were often not really recognised when referrals were made of young people needing foster care placements.
“Now, everyone is much more aware of the signs and the issue as a whole.
“It is recognised now that very young girls for example, who are coming into the care system, are not having consensual sex with their boyfriends – they are being groomed and exploited.
“A 13-year-old girl having sex with her 19-year-old ‘boyfriend’ is not doing it out of choice, she is doing it to please him and often because she craves love and affection.
“A 13-year-old child cannot consent to sexual intercourse.”
Ms Storey added: “These young people coming into care need to be helped and given chances and opportunities to turn their lives around – preferably before they’ve gone down the road into drug abuse.
“We need foster placements throughout Hartlepool and east Durham for them which take them out of that environment and often, out of their home area completely, to give them the care, security, therapy and stability they need.”
She said the challenging but rewarding role will require a need to help build up the young peoples’ confidence and to recognise they are not just “wayward” children at times, but victims.
Barnardo’s is looking for carers who are good team players, willing to have a lot of professionals in their lives, as the young people will need specialist intervention and therapy.
Extensive training and support will be given.
To find out more about fostering sexually-exploited children, call the fostering and adoption team on (0191) 4929000.