The Tuition, Medical and Behaviour Support Service (TMBSS) works with a broad range of young people who for various reasons are not able to attend mainstream education. Rebecca Watters, who is based at Bridgnorth Education Centre and Karen Perry, who is part of the West Mercia Police Exploitation Team, recently launched a series of workshops to educate parents on how to spot warning signs and how best to support their children if they do have concerns.
Rebecca feels that it is important that parents in Bridgnorth feel able to have open and honest discussions and not be afraid to ask questions.
She said: "We have piloted some workshops about the topics of exploitation, including online safety, grooming, mobile phone apps and the differences between normal teenage behaviour and risky behaviour.
"It is about allowing privacy while challenging secrecy. Traditionally parents have believed that if their children are at home, rather than ‘on the streets’, they are safe. With the advent of laptops and mobile phones, this is no longer the case.
"Karen has run similar workshops for other people who are likely to come into contact with young people, such as teachers, people who work in fast food chains and service stations, taxi drivers and lorry drivers – in fact, anyone who is likely to see young people hanging around so that adults in the community can keep children safe. Both the feedback and uptake from these people have been very good."
Attendance for the first couple of workshops for Bridgnorth parents was not as high as had been hoped. Rebecca believes that this is understandable.
"I think it is tempting to say 'oh that's a bit scary' or to assume that exploitation is not something which will touch our own lives. I firmly believe that knowing the risks reduces the risks, and if parents know more, they are able to respond calmly, rather than angrily, if their child or a friend becomes a victim and confides in them. The conversations around risk need to be taking place in every living room and around every kitchen table, so that children and young people know how to be safe online and when to ask their parents for help.
"The workshops are led through Microsoft Teams and are anonymous. We don't want parents thinking that they will be judged for attending or asking questions. There can be a tendency for parents to panic, and criticize or blame their child if they think they are hanging around with the wrong people, but that can sometimes push things deeper underground," Rebecca explained.
Some warning signs might be if your child talking about friends you have never met, or if they suddenly become withdrawn, or you notice they have new things. However, Rebecca added that some behaviour is entirely normal, and should be encouraged, and the devil is in the detail when it comes to spotting the warning signs.
That is exactly what these workshops are there for, to help parents understand what to look for and where both they and their children can get confidential advice and support.
The next two one-hour workshops will be held on October 14, the first at 10am and the second at 6pm. If you would like to take part or want to know more, please contact Rebecca Watters on 01746 764733 or Karen Perry at email@example.com.