The Western Trust has called on local people to help them protect children from “horrific” sexual abuse and exploitation.
The Trust has been hosting workshops with taxi drivers, local hoteliers and others, it has emerged, as part of a campaign to promote child safety in Derry and across the Western region.
Kieran Downey, Western Trust Director of Women and Children’s Services, said the issue remained one of its key priorities.
He was speaking after the publication of Professor Kathleen Marshall’s report into Child Sexual Exploitation across the north.
Announcing the findings on Tuesday, Health Minister Jim Wells said that the scale of abuse here remained unclear because of it’s hidden nature.
Mr Downey meanwhile said that the abuse of children highlighted in the report “affects young people in our society and is very much a community safety issue”.
He said: “The safety and protection of children remains a fundamental priority for the Western Trust and social workers exhibit great commitment and dedication on a daily basis to ensure this remains the case.”
Calling on local people to help to identify incidents of child sexual exploitation, Mr Downey said: “The Trust cannot address this horrendous abuse without the help of the wider community.
“Everyone has a role in preventing Child Sexual Exploitation and helping to safeguard children.
“Raising awareness of this type of abuse is essential. As a Trust we have provided local training to professionals and organised a number of local community workshops, to help highlight what can be done to keep our children and young people safe.
“The attendance at the workshops included community groups, hoteliers and taxi drivers amongst others.
“The Western Trust Gateway Service is the first point of contact for anyone who is concerned about a Child or Young Person.
The Gateway team can be contacted by calling the following number 028 71314090. This is a single Trust wide number.”
The Trust assurances come after Health Minister Jim Wells said a major Inquiry into child sexual abuse has found no evidence of organised abuse here on a similar scale or nature to that experienced in parts of England.
The Minister however said that punishment shootings and beatings meted out to children by paramilitaries were believed by many to be a form of child exploitation distinct to the north.
Mr Wells announced the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) on Tuesday morning.
In an Oral Statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Minister said that it had been difficult to establish the prevalence of sexual exploitation, mainly as a result of its hidden nature and under-reporting.
He said that there was no evidence of organised exploitation like the horrific abuse uncovered in Rochdale and Rotherham.
The report was commissioned last year by Mr Wells’ predecessor Edwin Poots, with Kathleen Marshall appointed to lead it. The Inquiry team was tasked to come up with recommendations.
Speaking to the Assembly, Mr Wells said: “On the nature and extent of CSE in Northern Ireland, the Inquiry concludes that it is not new and it takes different forms, as it does throughout the UK, but there are particular Northern Ireland dimensions to it.
“A number of individuals expressed an ardent plea that the Inquiry should speak up about the paramilitary dimension to CSE.
“Individuals believed to be members of, or linked to, paramilitary groups used that authority and the fear it engendered to exploit children and young people. The Inquiry was told very clearly that paramilitary influence may cause and facilitate CSE. Within communities it can build upon loyalty and fear.
“While we do not know the full extent of CSE in Northern Ireland, we can say there are no findings in this Inquiry that point to the type of organised exploitation seen in Rotherham or Rochdale; nor does it have the same ethnic minority dimension. There is no evidence in the report to suggest cover-up, corruption or lack of commitment on the part of agencies or individuals.
The Inquiry Report contains 17 key recommendations and a further 60 supporting recommendations.
A number of the recommendations are already being progressed, including a new child safeguarding policy and a planned review of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland.
Justice Minister David Ford said the Inquiry was clear that child sexual exploitation was happening in Northern Ireland and that it takes many forms.
He said: “I would encourage anyone affected by this issue who wishes to seek support to contact the NSPCC Helpline for victims. This Helpline is set up to assist anyone wishing to raise concerns about child sexual exploitation. The dedicated Helpline number is 0800 3891701.”