A charity has received £120,000 to help stop boys in London being groomed by drug dealing criminals.
City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, awarded the money to The Children’s Society for its Stride initiative, which runs from the national charity’s base in Stratford, Newham.
The project works with boys being targeted, groomed and trafficked for criminal exploitation – including ‘county lines’ drug dealing.
The Children’s Society is reporting an increase in cases of children trafficked from London and other cities and forced to distribute drugs in other parts of the country by organised crime groups gangs.
Children often go missing from home or care, and are sent to stay in dangerous ‘trap houses’ from which the drugs are packaged and sold.
The City Bridge Trust funding will pay for vital one-to-one support for boys referred to the charity, giving them access to mental health support and protecting them from harm.
Group sessions at schools will raise awareness of the importance of healthy relationships, and the risks of the grooming and criminal exploitation of young people.
And carers, police and charity volunteers will be trained to help them spot and respond to the signs of exploitation.
Dhruv Patel, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust committee, said: “The number of boys being groomed and trafficked by criminal gangs across the UK is of huge concern.
“These crimes are often hidden and can easily go under the radar, leaving vulnerable young people with little or no support. We must take action – and our work with The Children’s Society will make a real difference to young boys at risk.
“We are proud to partner with them, and we will continue to support charities in making the capital a better place in which to live.”
Helen Leadbitter, Greater London area manager at The Children’s Society, said: “These young people are groomed into exploitation – including trafficking along county lines – with drugs and alcohol or promises of status and wealth and then controlled using terrifying threats, violence and sexual abuse.
“This is a really worrying issue across London and elsewhere, and we know from our frontline work and research that while any child in any community can be affected, including girls, boys are often targeted.
“Sadly, too many children end up being criminalised rather than supported as victims and do not get the help they need to escape this cycle of exploitation and recover from the trauma.”
The most recent National Crime Agency report identified nearly 2,000 individual county lines “deal lines” controlled by criminal networks, with the largest number originating from London, and said that 91% of people associated with county lines operations were male.
The Children’s Society’s Counting Lives report highlighted that nationally, the response from statutory agencies in identifying and supporting children, and recognising them as victims is inconsistent and often comes too late.
City Bridge Trust has awarded around 8,000 grants totalling over £400m since it first began in 1995.