Crime Urban Echo News 

Safeguarding children in West Yorkshire

by Mark Burns Williamson, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner

I launched an innovative animation project in January which is specifically designed to safeguard children in West Yorkshire from exploitation and abuse.

Called ‘Mister Shapeshifter’, it has been funded through £36,000 of grant money from my office and was premiered at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford with the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield also attending.

It uses a modern ‘fairy tale’ to depict how some adults’ can abuse children’s trust and highlights ways in which they can protect themselves.

Based on the acclaimed GW Theatre Company stage production written by Mike Harris, it has been touring into schools since 2015. Its huge success has led to the development of the animation, produced in collaboration with BAFTA award winning and Marsden based Fettle Animation.

The resource is intended to reach as wide an audience as possible and will be available online for anyone to use, supported by a free to access package of training material and activities.

It is designed to help teachers, parents, community groups and organisations alike to discuss these complex issues and deliver a consistent message to children of primary school age across the county.

Online safety and child exploitation are themes which I have been personally committed to addressing and remain key priorities of my Police and Crime Plan.

It is crucial that young people have a clear knowledge of the signs of child exploitation or abuse and how they are able to flag it to the authorities or parents when or where it occurs.

I am certain that this innovative animation will go a long way to achieving this, whilst driving home the consequences of such activities to others. To find out more about the resource visit www.mrshapeshifter.com.

I recently paid a timely visit to one of our county’s food banks. This followed a joint donation from myself and the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, of nearly £50,000 to foodbanks across West Yorkshire last year.

The donation was made to the Yorkshire Food Poverty Network with monies from the Police Property Act Fund which is created from the sale of recovered stolen property where the owners are not known and cannot be traced, and is used for charitable causes.

The West Yorkshire Food Poverty Network is made up of 5 smaller food networks that cover each district of West Yorkshire. The Network ensures all 5 areas are working together to bring about a coordinated approach to tackling food poverty.

It’s a very sad fact that food banks are needed across our districts but I was pleased to be able to provide some assistance with the joint donation and make a very worthwhile visit to see one of the foodbanks in operation.

I also attended the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC)in January to give evidence as part of their Modern Slavery inquiry.

I have been very focussed about tackling modern slavery and human trafficking for a number of years as well as helping coordinate and lead a national response on behalf of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

I shared my own experiences with the committee to assist in building a national picture, which will essentially help us to respond more effectively to these horrendous crimes and abuses. In particular, I talked about the need for more collaborative working, greater care for victims and survivors, as well as additional resources and training.

Here in West Yorkshire, I have supported the creation of a dedicated team of detectives, focused on tackling Human Trafficking. Under my Safer Communities Fund, I have also provided over £75,000 to 17 separate local organisations, which work specifically to address and tackle these important issues.

Likewise, I have helped to set up local and national networks of key partners, strengthening our joint response. More recently, my office held a partnership conference to explore the links between homelessness and modern slavery.

Whilst there has been substantial progress in tackling these issues, clearly more needs to be done and I welcome the opportunity to set out how we are working with policing partners and others, to reduce such criminality and help safeguard victims and survivors of human trafficking. The fight goes on!

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