The Scotsman today launches its Christmas Appeal, supporting Barnardo’s Scotland to help children and young people cope with the challenges of the 21st century.
The charity has 122 projects supporting more than 14,000 children and young people whose lives have been affected by issues such as abuse, exclusion, disability or parental drink and drug problems.
While much of the fundraising is done through its network of charity shops, Barnardo’s Scotland needs to raise £3 million each year to maintain its services.
Each donation, no matter how small, makes a huge difference to giving a child hope for the future.
Over the next two weeks in the run up to Christmas, The Scotsman and our sister paper Scotland on Sunday will focus on some of the initiatives the charity supports, starting today with Safer Choices.
This project sends workers into schools to teach young people how to safeguard themselves against predatory adults on the internet.
The four-week project tackles hidden online dangers, explaining how any young person, caught off-guard or feeling slightly vulnerable, can easily be targeted and sexually exploited by adults on social networking sites.
While vital at any time, the work of the project has heightened relevance in light of the allegations of child abuse surrounding Jimmy Savile and other public figures.
One of the first questions Barnardo’s Scotland asks pupils taking part in the project is: “Why would an adult in their 30s want someone your age as a friend?”
Daljeet Dagon, the project’s children’s services manager, who has taken the programme into schools across Glasgow, said that at the first session, typical comments from pupils about those targeted include “well, they asked for it. They knew what they were doing”.
Others have said “we’re too savvy for that. It wouldn’t happen in this area.”
“But we tell them how these older people start by tuning in to younger people by doing things like sharing gaming tips and music, but that they are essentially testing the water,” she said.
“They’ll move on to subjects like drinking and drugs and having sex, which this person will make out it’s OK to talk about.”
Ms Dagon said pupils are warned that the online friend might then persuade the youngster to log into a private chatroom and from there the situation can turn sinister, leading to encouraging them to discuss intimate details or even expose themselves on a web cam.
Safer Choices also runs a street work project, with workers going out in Glasgow city centre three nights a week speaking to young people who are hanging around bus and train stations, putting themselves at risk from drug dealers and opportunistic predatory adults.
Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said there was currently no estimate of the prevalence of child sexual exploitation in Scotland.
However, a Barnardo’s study carried out last year estimated one in seven young people were at risk of exploitation in Northern Ireland. The charity also estimated that in Wales 9 per cent of vulnerable children were at significant risk of sexual exploitation.
• To find out more about Safer Choices visit www.barnardos.org.uk/saferchoices
• Barnardo’s national Child Sexual Exploitation Services www.barnardos.org.uk/what_we_do/our_projects/sexual_exploitation