Leicestershire care home children selling sex on street

A small number of children, some as young as 14, are known to regularly walk out of care homes to sell themselves.

Welfare group New Futures believes some of the youngsters have been groomed for prostitution by older “boyfriends” – men who shower the girls with gifts, mobile phones and money and gradually introduce them to clients.

Often they are given heroin and crack cocaine – and once addicted, the youngsters need to work to support their drug habits.

Now, New Futures workers are helping care staff and other professionals who work with youngsters in care to recognise signs that they could be at risk.

By doing so, workers hope to protect vulnerable girls.

Della Cavner, director of New Futures, said: “We do know of young girls who go missing from care homes.

“And the work that is going on to bring them away from this kind of sexual exploitation is essential.

“We have moved away from the notion of child prostitutes. In law, they quite rightly are regarded as victims of sexual exploitation.”

Ms Cavner said that about two thirds of the adult prostitutes working in Leicester had grown up in care. She said: “This isn’t a criticism of the care system, that doesn’t make women turn to prostitution.”

The group worked with police and social services to draw up a list of approximately 20 girls aged 13 to 19 who were either working in prostitution or thought to be at risk of doing so.

Not all are in the care system. However, New Futures has now reported that a small number, probably in single figures, live in children’s homes.

It costs New Futures around £15,000 a year to run its training courses.

Ms Cavner said: “Really, that’s money we don’t have.

“We are doing it because we think this kind of work is so important.”

Vi Dempster, the city council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “We are talking about a small number of young people, but they are the most vulnerable in society. It’s irrelevant that it is only a small number of girls involved,

“There’s a message here, too, for the men who pay for sex with women.

“These girls are children, and the consequences of paying them for sex are severe.”

A Leicestershire County Council spokesman said: “We do everything we can to keep children in our care safe, which includes protecting them from sexual abuse.

“These young people are particularly vulnerable. Social workers, foster carers and residential staff all work with them on issues of self esteem, keeping healthy and making positive choices about their lives.”