TAXI drivers and private hire operators in Leeds are set to undergo training to help spot children who are at risk of being sexually exploited.
The training, which is expected to be rolled out from February, will see drivers receive safeguarding training and advice in a bid to keep youngsters away from potential predators.
The news comes following an independent inquiry in Rotherham which highlighted “significant concerns” that taxi and private hire vehicles had been used by those involved in the sexual exploitation of children to move them around the town and to other cities.
Jane Held, independent chair of the Leeds Safeguarding Children Board, said: “Protecting children and young people from any risk remains a top priority for the council.
“Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is an extremely complex issue which means that it is not a straightforward challenge to address or one that can be dealt with quickly or by a single agency, which is why in Leeds, we have a strong partnership approach, led through the Leeds Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB).
“Perpetrators will often go to extremes to commit these offences so is vital that we consider all avenues to best protect those who may be at risk.
“As part of our on-going review into safeguarding controls in taxi and private hire licensing we are updating the safeguarding training currently provided to licenced operators, drivers and taxi escorts.
“In conjunction with the LSCB a safeguarding awareness course is being developed to help individuals identify and have a greater awareness of the issues of CSE and trafficking.
“The training will also help drivers and operators develop their personal skills when dealing with passengers and ensure that drivers know exactly what to do if they have a concern about what they may see or hear in the course of their work. “
Work is also taking place in Leeds to understand how to improve safeguarding intelligence and to share it between police, licensing and other agencies.
The plans will be debated by Leeds City Council’s executive board next week.
A report to the panel, which was drawn up to identify potential risks as a result of the Rotherham Report, concludes there are “robust safeguarding processes in place in Taxi and Private Hire Licensing”.
Ms Held added: “Although it is impossible to put a figure on the number of children at risk of becoming victims of CSE, the council and West Yorkshire Police work closely with third sector and business organisations, to raise awareness amongst people who work directly with children to recognise the signs and respond appropriately to ensure those who could be at risk are identified and supported as appropriate.”