A TEAM which safeguards children deemed to be vulnerable has broadened its remit to address a rise in youngsters being exploited by criminal gangs, the Chronicle can reveal.

Barnsley Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB) is responsible for bringing local services together such as the police, council and healthcare providers to agree how to keep children safe.

Protecting vulnerable youngsters being targeted has become a top priority due to Barnsley’s high number of looked-after children, of which there are an estimated 200 in the care system.

So-called county lines - a term used for crime associated with gangs crossing borders to expand their drug network - is said to have become a problem for police bosses.

Bob Dyson, chairman of BSCB, said: “The board is made up of three partners including the council, South Yorkshire Police and Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

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“The remit has been broadened due to child exploitation, as those who are vulnerable are more prone to grooming.

“Aspects such as county lines crime are all included in that broader focus. We have always been prepared to make changes in order to respond to emerging issues. A good example is the child sexual exploitation sub-group widening its work to cover such issues as county lines and contextual safeguarding.

“It’s also important to add that the service has gone from requiring improvement to securing a good rating from Ofsted in October last year.

“That’s an independent verification of the long way it’s come and the hard work agencies have put in. We can’t be complacent and will continue to put improved plans in place so we’re even better than good.”

Officers believe South Yorkshire as a whole has been seen as a hotbed for organised crime groups (OCGs) thanks to its road links to West Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Humberside.

A multi-council child exploitation team is now up and running, with officers tasked with working with young people in local communities where organised crime is prevalent, such as Goldthorpe and Bolton-upon-Dearne.

The initiative has been funded by Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, through a £703,432 Home Office grant which will provide two years’ working and involves Barnsley Council, Doncaster and Rotherham.

A report said: “Child criminal exploitation is an emerging theme in all areas of the UK and South Yorkshire is no different.

“South Yorkshire has a high number of OCGs and in the past five years Barnsley has experienced in variable proportions ‘county lines’ issues in relation to young people being targeted.

“It is important that professionals start seeing young people who are involved in gangs as potential victims of exploitation or trafficking and that all young people under 18 and therefore considered children, are treated as such and are safeguarded by society.”

Coun Margaret Bruff, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services, said there will be a ‘continued commitment’ to preventing exploitation and praised the board’s work over the last 12 months.

“We are committed to preventing any occurrences of child criminal exploitation in Barnsley,” she added.

“We already do a lot of work to keep our young people safe from harm, including preventing them getting involved in criminal activity, and this partnership project will provide further support.

“I endorse the work of the board as it’s a borough-wide priority to keep our most vulnerable safe from harm and there’s a continued commitment for that.”