Lincolnshire taxi drivers are being urged to watch out for signs of child exploitation in a bid to get ahead of those “doing the work of the devil”.
Lincolnshire County Council said it is “committed to protecting” children from exploitation despite the coronavirus pandemic’s challenges.
Chris Cook, chairman of the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Partnership said “exploitation is developing nationwide and we need to be ahead of the game”.
Between March 2019 and March 2020, Lincolnshire Police recorded 1,150 offences of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
Within those offences, there were 1,014 victims and 716 offenders. The most reported offences are in Lincoln and West Lindsey.
Lincolnshire Police also recorded 441 offences relating to indecent images online – 81% relate to the distribution of the images.
Child exploitation covers missing children, county lines (drug trafficking), sex trafficking, modern slavery and online grooming.
In the Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee on November 20, Chris Cook highlighted the importance of taxi drivers in child exploitation cases, and said they are the “eyes and ears of the community”.
He explained: “Children can be moved from place to place by taxi so it is important that drivers have this type of training.”
All taxi drivers across Lincolnshire are provided with training to spot signs of child exploitation.
Chris Cook said: “Though the pandemic has presented challenges, we’ve continued to support and protect vulnerable children, responding to any safeguarding concerns and identifying hidden harm.”
One of these challenges is the lack of face-to-face contact due to social distancing.
In response, the county council has maintained close contact with vulnerable children and their families via digital technology, delivering support groups and positive activities.
In some cases, however, face-to-face contact has been necessary.
Mr Cook added: “Despite the disruption caused by COVID, we all remain committed to protecting our young people from every form of exploitation.
“If we become complacent, those criminal gangs will get ahead of us.”
Councillor Robert Foulkes said: “To me, county lines [drug and sex trafficking] are the work of the devil. It’s just awful.”
The council has a new screening tool which provides practitioners and partners support.
Lincolnshire Police have been working with partners during both lockdowns to ensure they can respond effectively to child exploitation and abuse.