DEDICATED staff supporting some of the South West’s most vulnerable children and young people have been praised by a charity’s national director.
Adam Pemberton, Barnardo’s director of strategy and performance, was taken on a tour of Bristol BASE (Barnardo’s Against Sexual Exploitation).
Since it started operating in 1995 the service has worked with more than 1,600 children and young people affected by child sexual exploitation, running away from home, or in need of sex and relationships advice.
Adam met the staff and saw some of the therapeutic artwork produced by the young people, before listening to one of the victims during a private session afterwards.
BASE is housed within an anonymous building to provide a safe and confidential environment where young people can seek help and advice.
The project features a lounge, a kitchen, washing and showering facilities, as well as access to sexual health and mental health services, clothing and food.
Barnardo’s regional assistant director Duncan Stanway said: “BASE is a relatively small service but it makes a huge impact on the lives of some of the region’s most vulnerable children and young people, operating across Bristol, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset, and Somerset.
“All of our work is tailored to an individual’s own specific needs. Some will want to sit and talk about their problems, others will want to do activities, and a few may not want to talk until we’ve built a bond of trust.
“We work with young people who have experienced high levels of trauma and distress, and whose behaviours reflect this. Their lives can be chaotic and we often have to work very hard to maintain contact.
“Support can last for anything from just a few months to several years, depending on their level of need.”
BASE support is normally divided into three phases.
The first phase is engagement and assessment. This includes harm reduction such as developing safe networks, strategies for leaving risky situations and locations, sexual health and how to access emergency help.
The second phase is therapeutic support. This is more structured and covers issues such as grooming, consent, gang networks, and controlling behaviour.
The final phase not only shows young people how to leave exploitative relationships but also promotes their aspirations and helps to develop new skills and interests.
Staff also provide support if young people have to attend court for the prosecution of offenders.
One young person said: “I’ve stopped going missing from care. I feel happier within myself.” Another added: “I’m glad I have someone who I can trust. I know that she will support me no matter what happens.”
A parent said: “I really don’t know what we would have done without BASE. It gave us a way forward, and the hope that things can be fairly normal again.”
Duncan added: “There is greater public and professional awareness of child sexual exploitation but it’s still a hidden crime with too many hidden victims.
“Safeguarding vulnerable children and young people is everyone’s responsibility. We must continue to do everything we can to offer them a safer and more positive future.”
Adam said: “Our vision is that no child should be affected by this horrific crime, but more children than ever before need us.
“The pain of a young person’s ordeal and fear that they will not be believed means they are too often scared to come forward, and they might not recognise themselves as a victim.
“However, thanks to the dedication and commitment of the staff at BASE we can help them to transform their lives and fulfil their potential.”