You can’t solve a problem you can’t see
Kate Speedie is content officer for the international charity Railway Children and she talks to Parental Choice about the charity’s Christmas campaign and how it means so much to her as a mother of three herself.
"It’s obvious that they need our help when we talk about children scraping together a living on the railways in India or fighting for survival on the streets of East Africa. But here in the UK we work with children who are just as much at risk, but so much harder to reach and support. So this year we have focussed our Christmas campaign in that area of our work – the area that is so hard for other people to see.
"We have a unique partnership with British Transport Police, who responded to over 9,000 reports of children in danger on the rail network last year. Some were running away from home or care, some were being groomed and lured to meet strangers or exploited and forced to transport drugs for criminal ‘county lines’ gangs. Some had even gone to dark corners of UK stations planning to end their own lives. Thanks to our training and support BTP officers are now able to spot the signs of a child at risk and know how to respond.
"It’s not always easy to know when a child is in danger – especially at this time of year when our stations are bustling with people out socialising or Christmas shopping. But they can step in before it’s too late and now refer their child safeguarding concerns to us at Railway Children. Then our teams can follow up on these cases and visit the young person and their family to find out why they were putting themselves in danger in the first place. Sometimes we unravel a complex situation that takes many months to resolve but we will keep visiting and keep talking until we know that child is safe.
"That’s what we did for Freya who was referred to our project after BTP spotted her trying to get the train to Glasgow on her own one day. She was 14 years old and when they started asking questions about where she was going and why it became obvious something wasn’t right. We eventually discovered that she’d been on her way to meet a boy she’d met online – a ‘boy’ that police later discovered was a 44-year-old man. The man had preyed on her knowing she was vulnerable – it turned out she had been being bullied at school for months and he’d befriended her just when she felt desperately lonely.
“I have a 14-year-old daughter myself and it breaks my heart to think how easily this could have been her. The worst thing of all was finding out that her mum had no idea any of it had been going on. At that age, with so many complex emotions and situations all around them it is all too easy to imagine any teenage girl making a decision like Freya did and it doesn’t bear thinking how differently it could have ended. As a parent it’s great to see the impact we are already having by being able to keep the vulnerable young people BTP refer to us safe and by helping them understand the dangers they are putting themselves in.”
Find out more about Railway Children’s work to create a safety net across the UK rail system and how you can help this Christmas www.railwaychildren.org.uk/safetynet
Please make a donation if you can or request your free guide to spotting the children who might be in danger and help be the charity’s eyes and ears looking out for children at risk.