Virtual reality is the latest weapon to be used in the fight against child sexual exploitation in Staffordshire.
A Stoke on Trent school has been chosen to pilot a new VR video to help teenagers identify child sexual exploitation (CSE) risks.
They will also be able to discuss the issue and learn how to keep themselves safe, both in social situations and online, a report to Staffordshire’s Safe and Strong Communities Select Committee said.
Work to combat CSE and safeguard children in Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent is carried out by a number of organisations working in partnership, including councils and Staffordshire Police.
But provision of sex and relationship education in schools across Staffordshire has been described as “currently inconsistent”.
The report said: “A number of partners have recognised a gap in the local co-ordination and delivery of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) and Sex and Relationships education (SRE) in schools and other educational establishments, particularly around vulnerabilities such as child sexual abuse, youth violence, prevent, fire safety, road safety, substance misuse, healthy relationships and sexual health.
“There is no single agreed approach or tools used across the city and county, with some schools receiving regular input from external agencies and others less frequently.
A steering group chaired by the Joint Strategic CSE Co-ordinator has now developed new teaching materials set to be trialled in the coming months across the area however.
The report said: “The product is to be delivered to Year 9 students at a pilot school in Stoke-on-Trent (in) January and is scheduled to be rolled out as a wider pilot to 11 more schools across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent before the end of summer term.
“There will be one pilot school per district within Staffordshire. The Joint Strategic CSE Coordinator will seek advice from the Families First CSE Coordinator around selecting schools for whom the product will be of most benefit.
“The main feature of the campaign and classroom pack is a virtual-reality video utilising ‘immersive’ 360 degree/ smart phone technologies. The video and classroom pack enable children to explore their environment, identify risks they relate to and then discuss in a safe, non-judgemental environment how they may feel in a situation and explore strategies to keep themselves safer both in social situations and online.
“The video and classroom pack will be complemented by a range of resources aimed at parents and carers; including an e-flyer around holding confident conversations about safety with their children and how to create a safety plan, short clips of the video to allow parents to discuss specific areas with their child and experience what their child has seen and a series of social media messages around signs to look out for and how to report a child missing.”
Committee vice chairman Councillor Conor Wileman asked if areas of the county “with a particular prevalence for CSE” could be targeted with adverts raising awareness of the issue on social media sites used by young people.
Vonni Gordon, strategic lead in specialist safeguarding delivery at Staffordshire County Council, responded: “The short answer is yes.
“We would have to have proper resources and we would have to be very responsible about how it was delivered. I think we would need quite a lot of guidance and direction.”