A POLICE team whose officers will tackle child exploitation has been set up in Barnsley after there were more victims in the town than anywhere else in South Yorkshire.

Projections, following a Freedom of Information request submitted to the police force, show there could be 320 cases of the crime this year.

It’s a 237 per cent increase from 2020 when 95 cases were recorded.

The figures have risen year-on-year since that date, with 136 cases in 2021 and 188 in 2022.

If the statistics ring true, then Barnsley will have 104 victims per 100,000 people - the highest in South Yorkshire.

A police report stated: “Following an intensive self-assessment of organisational capability and analysis of our demand and intelligence gaps in 2023, South Yorkshire Police’s senior command team supported the creation of a dedicated child exploitation team in Barnsley.

“This growth provides parity across the organisation ensuring a consistent level of service can be provided to all children, irrespective of which area they reside in.”

Barnsley now has a bi-weekly meeting with officers from the force’s child exploitation tactical group, but plans are in place to increase the provision even more due to initial success in reducing cases in Sheffield and Rotherham.

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Magnay, child sexual exploitation lead for South Yorkshire Police, said: “We now operate with specialist multi-agency teams working with local authorities, support agencies and charities.

“Officers in these teams lead targeted police activity, direct investigations, identify vulnerable children and young people, and crucially support and safeguard victims and survivors.

“There has been an increase in the number of reported incidents of potential child exploitation from 2018 to 2023.

“A significant proportion of the increase can be attributed to more accurate data recording, a rise in public trust and confidence in us leading to more engagement with victims and the public, and the deployment of specialist teams to identify and safeguard those potential victims of exploitation.

“While on the surface it may look like a cause for concern, we view this increase as a positive outcome of our targeted actions.

“For example our dedicated child exploitation campaign, which launched earlier this year and is supported by victims and survivors, aimed to boost public awareness of the signs of child exploitation and has successfully resulted in increased reporting.”

Sergeant Emma Bloodworth added: “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.

“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.”