Council piloting VR to reduce the number of children being criminally exploited

Ealing Council is using virtual reality (VR) technology to pilot a new scheme to reduce the exploitation of vulnerable children.

01/07/21

Council piloting VR to reduce the number of children being criminally exploited

Ealing Council’s Youth Justice Service (YJS) is using new VR technology in a bid to reduce the number of children and young people being criminally exploited.

The pilot scheme, which will run for an initial four months, aims to increase awareness of harmful behaviour and exploitative relationships of young people already involved with the YJS, or known to them, and seeks to support young people to recognise high-risk situations while developing skills to avoid these situations and people.

Recent evidence, such as the Punishing Abuse report published by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, suggests that the majority of children in the youth justice system have been subject to abuse, trauma or poverty.

The research, which is based on the lives of 80 children in the criminal justice system, found that nine in 10 children are known or suspected to have been abused.

Using VR headsets and 360-degree immersive films designed by tech group Antser, children and young people from Ealing’s YJS will find themselves immersed in the young people’s experience, providing them with an opportunity to safely explore the issues of risk, how to identify it, how to avoid it and how to protect themselves.

Lizzie Gittens, Interventions Officer at Ealing Council, said in 2020 alone they recorded that 27 young people were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) due to concerns of modern day slavery and exploitation.

“While trends and awareness of exploitation and county lines have become better known and acknowledged both locally and nationally we, as a service, wanted to ensure we are addressing these risks and supporting our young people to increase their understanding of coercive behaviour, as well as developing their skills to manage peer pressure and implement safety planning strategies.

“As a service we are constantly looking at new and innovative ways to deliver interventions and so the pilot with Antser has given us the opportunity to use a range of resources that we would otherwise not have access to.”

Alison Alexander, Strategic Director at Antser, said that the group’s VR technology is currently being used in almost half of local authorities across the country, but this is the first time that their films are being used to work directly with young people.

“We are delighted to be working with Ealing’s YJS to utilise this powerful tool to help protect vulnerable young people,” Alexander said, adding: “We are confident that our VR will not only have a positive impact on those being exploited, but those thousands of children and young people who are also at risk of being exploited, continuing our commitment to providing positive outcomes for children and young people.”

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