VERU’s exploitation conference attended by 200 people

Two hundred people attended a landmark digital conference which helped parents and practitioners spot the signs of child exploitation.

Guest speakers with personal experience of gangs, knife crime and exploitation joined experts in the field for the ‘Exploitation through the lens of parents’ event organised by Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU).

Many guests were left in tears as a result of heartfelt talks by the likes of Roseann Taylor, whose son Azaan Kaleem was stabbed to death in Luton in March 2018.

Ms Taylor now works for our Youth Intervention Specialist (YIS) team, which works with young people and families affected by things like knife crime, county lines and child criminal exploitation.

Other YIS team members gave talks about their lived experience of violence and exploitation, while the conference also heard from a father, whose daughter was the victim of child sexual exploitation.

Other guest speakers included people from national and local groups working to tackle child exploitation, as well as a criminal barrister, while Bedfordshire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Sharn Basra opened the event.

“This was a powerful and hugely important event which I am sure will have a real and long-lasting impact on all those who attended,” said ACC Basra.

“Hearing the personal stories of so many of the guest speakers really brought the reality of child exploitation to life. 

“This was also a superb opportunity for professionals from different areas to share learning and understanding.

“The VERU is leading the way nationally in terms of raising awareness and understanding of these issues and I am so proud of everyone’s efforts in pulling this together.”

One conference attendee said: “Thank you so very much for allowing me to join the conference this morning. 

“I have listened all day and have taken a considerable amount of learning and thought provoking questions away with me. 

“This was exceptional, and the speakers were truly open and honest with their own life experiences. 

“I would definitely want to be informed of other conferences as the presentations, presenters and organisation of the conference was of a very high standard.”

Another added: “Thank you so much for the opportunity to attend as a parent. 

“I would also like to thank all who arranged for this conference to happen. I will take so much away with me today. Such powerful and moving speakers.”

The event was also described as “amazing”, “inspiring”, “powerful” and “emotional” by guests at the conference on social media.

Safeguarding Bedfordshire also played a key role in organising the conference.

Around 1,200 young people, parents and professionals have now attended awareness raising, training and briefing events organised by the VERU.

We are leading efforts to tackle the root causes of serious violence, treating it as a public health issue and coordinating efforts by different agencies and organisations in Bedfordshire to respond.

The VERU has won another grant of £880,000 to continue its work for a third year, subject to Home Office approval for its plans.

Kimberley Lamb, Head of the VERU, said: “No single agency or organisation can protect young people in Bedfordshire by working on their own.

“Raising awareness among our communities and professionals like teachers and healthcare workers is a key part of our vision to tackle violence and exploitation.

“Empowering our communities to play their part is absolutely crucial and I hope we can continue this work as we enter our third year.

“We have made enormous progress – but there is so much more for us to do.”

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