In response to the Children’s Commissioner’s annual study of childhood vulnerability in England, Dr Alan Billings said: “The Children’s Commissioner has drawn national attention to the growing issue of child criminal exploitation (CCE) and has noted similarities with child sexual exploitation (CSE).

“In South Yorkshire we are well aware of the way in which vulnerable young boys and girls can be groomed by gang members and ensnared in the web of drug dealing.

“Young people are befriended and given inducements to lure them into the gang, where they are soon required to play a part in moving drugs from dealers to clients.

“The reason young people are not known to the authorities is precisely because the gangs target young people who are ‘clean skins’ – not known to the local authority or the police.

“Gangs are changing. They no longer defend their ‘turf’ and advertise themselves with graffiti. They want to remain invisible and secretive, and to exploit and expand the drugs market.

“What the Children’s Commissioner does not comment on is the way the social fabric of local communities has been destroyed over the past ten years making it more difficult to support vulnerable families and vulnerable  children. Sure Start has gone, the youth service has been decimated. Private children’s homes – which are businesses – have mushroomed. There are fewer youth workers.

“I have CCE as one of the matters of concern for South Yorkshire Police to be focused on in the coming year.  We aim to keep on top of this by disrupting the drug gangs and protecting any children in danger of being caught up in them.”

To read the full report – see here.