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VERU 'neon' project gives doctors and nurses the tools to help exploited young people

Almost 100 medical professionals have signed up to a pioneering training programme to help hospital staff in Bedfordshire spot the signs a child is being exploited.

The Neon project is a joint venture between the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Gangsline.

The course aims to give staff at both Bedford and the Luton & Dunstable hospitals the skills and confidence they need to be a beacon of hope for vulnerable young people caught up in street violence – hence the phrase ‘neon’.

The VERU co-designed the training alongside Sheldon Thomas, founder of the charity Gangsline who works for our youth intervention specialist (YIS) team.

The programme also benefitted from the input of Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire, the national policing lead for serious youth violence, and David Kirby, the deputy medical director of the NHS trust in Bedfordshire.

Some 96 medical professionals signed up to take the course within a few days of it being released, with funding for staff to take the course all provided by the VERU.

Those signed up so far include A&E doctors, paediatricians and nurses.

An image from the Gangsline training for NHS staff

Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye said: “We are making use of every channel available to reach those most at risk of criminal exploitation, and I am delighted to see this investment in heping our doctors and nurses to be a part of the solution to tackling gang violence.

“It is not always easy to spot the signs of exploitation – even for those being groomed or professionals.

“Only through a multi-agency effort such as this, can we sustain progress made in safeguarding the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Mr Kirby said: “In our hospitals we see far too many young people who have been caught up in violence, violent crime and chaotic lifestyles.

“The time has come for our staff to not only be able to treat their injuries, but also understand the background to these young people’s problems and to be able to constructively listen and support them.

“By the time we see them in the Emergency Department, they are possibly at the lowest point in their young lives.

“This training programme helps our staff to recognise and respond to the exploitation faced by them, allowing guidance and support to be offered to support our role in safeguarding their welfare.

“I am incredibly proud to be involved in this project, and we at Bedfordshire Hospitals are committed to working with all agencies in promoting the welfare of young people.”

The VERU leads the multi-agency response to serious youth violence in Bedfordshire, treating it like a public health issue than can be prevented from happening in the first place.

Child criminal exploitation spot the signs

Kimberley Lamb, head of the VERU, said: “Extensive research and preparation has gone into this programme to ensure it gives our brilliant Bedfordshire doctors and nurses the tools they need to recognise and respond to the exploitation of young people caught up in violence.

“We are really lucky to have Sheldon’s expertise informing this piece of work. He has lived this lifestyle and knows as well as anyone how we can best reach those involved in gangs.

“I am also extremely grateful for the support we have had from Mr Kirby on this project in particular, who shares our passion to safeguard young people and offer them a brighter future.

“Many young people who end up in hospital due to violence are at an extremely vulnerable moment.

“It is vital that we offer them the right guidance and support at this moment, which could make all the difference in transforming their lives for the better.”

Mr Thomas, who has spoken openly about his life as a former gang member, said: “The training session is unique in combining the experience and expertise of former gang members with the specialist knowledge of sociologists of urban disorder and youth offending.

“More specifically, the authentic, first-hand testimony of my own experience with gang membership, paired with content underpinned by cutting-edge academic research and knowledge of the scholarly literature around street gangs.

“The course explores the typical environment of young street gang members and illustrates how it distorts their thinking processes, often prompting their withdrawal from mainstream education, training and employment.

“This helps practitioners identify the signs associated with street gang membership and understand its root causes.”

The Neon project continues the VERU’s work to raise awareness of these issues across Bedfordshire.

Earlier this year 200 people attended a conference organised by the VERU aimed at parents and carers, while the unit has also delivered training to more than 400 professionals working in areas such as the police, local authorities, health, probation, education, youth offending and residential care placements.

More of these briefings are planned from September.

This summer it has delivered talks to around 1,700 students and staff at education settings in the county, while it also leads on the Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) campaign.

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