Missing children are at risk of falling into the clutches of child sex groomers and new measures are being drawn up to protect them.
Shocking figures reveal that 455 children and young people have been reported as missing in one year in Leeds and concerns are growing that some of those could end up being abused.
Leeds Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) claim the risk children face from sexual exploitation when they go missing from home or care has been increasingly highlighted in recent years.
Last year 103 children in Leeds were identified as being at direct risk from sexual exploitation which includes some of those reported missing.
The majority of those abused live at home but the new arrangements will also help protect those who find themselves on the streets. Council bosses are now drawing up a new multi-agency strategy to tackle child sexual exploitation in a bid to protect children from abuse.
Jane Held, independent chair of the LSCB, said: “In recent years there has been an increased appreciation of the vulnerability of young people who go missing from home or care and the link between this and the risk of becoming sexually exploited.
“The LSCB has identified these young people as a priority vulnerable group requiring a concerted and co-ordinated multi-agency response,” she said.
Around 54 per cent of youngsters who were reported as missing between 2012/13 were aged between 11 and 15.
Ms Held added: “Although much progress has already been made in improving how cases of child sexual exploitation are identified and young victims protected, agencies in the city who are involved in protecting children are currently working together to develop a city-wide strategy to further improve and streamline this vital work.
“The strategy will set out how all agencies should work together at strategic as well as operational level.”
Ms Held said that the new strategy would see resources invested to help the authorities identify youngsters who are thought to be at risk of being sexually exploited.
The new policy, which is currently being drawn up, also aims to offer support and remove vulnerable youngsters from harm.
Agencies are also set to work together to ensure that families and professionals are aware of the signs of exploitation.
They are also creating a perpetrator risk assessment tool to help profile predators and are developing a comprehensive database to map the issue.