ALMOST 100 ‘vulnerable’ children were visited by police officers in Barnsley recently as part of a scheme to stop the exploitation of youngsters.

As part of the operation, neighbourhood policing teams and roads policing officers came together alongside dog handlers, Barnsley Council and community groups to safeguard those at risk through hotspot patrols and to provide early intervention to those who could be affected.

The town centre was the main area of focus, with teams stopping and speaking with children who would often congregate around Barnsley Interchange.

Officers spoke to 86 children and seven adults who were identified as being vulnerable, and safeguarding referrals and intelligence has been submitted.

Seven addresses were visited where officers believe the residents could be at risk of cuckooing, where those involved in drug dealing use the address to carry out their deals, store and move drugs.

Criminals will often use violence and intimidation to get the occupier to comply.

Further enforcement while on patrol included two teenagers being arrested on suspicion of affray and theft and a vehicle seized for being used in crime.

Four young people were also referred to support services for substance misuse.

They will use the council service HUB, which provides engagement for youngsters throughout the day, including pool games and first aid sessions, to break down barriers and facilitate discussions.

Officers are urging the community for help to spot the signs.

As part of the scheme, they held a stall to ‘empower’ residents to spot the signs of exploitation, modern day slavery and trafficking.

The signs include children being more secretive, skipping school, a sudden change in mood or behaviour and a new interest or reliance on drugs and alcohol.

Sergeant Emma Bloodworth said: “Every child deserves a happy and safe childhood free from harm or abuse.

“Sadly, for some children this isn’t the case, and for many reasons they are vulnerable to criminals exploiting them wherever they can, whether this be in a sexual way or by getting them involved in drug supply or organised crime.

“Sometimes children caught up in this world do not realise they are a victim and this is why it is so important that bystanders speak up and report it.

“I am keen that people in and around Barnsley recognise the signs of child exploitation and report this to us.

“Our priority is making sure that those exposed to exploitation, criminality and harm are offered the support and safeguarding that they need.

“The protection of our children and young people is at the heart of everything we do.”