After being exploited by criminals, we supported Preston*, 19, to fulfil his full potential through an innovative service where young people design their own products.
Preston grew up in a 'trap house' a term given to houses where drug dealing is taking place. “Trap is exactly the right word for it because that’s the reality, you’re trapped into a never-ending cycle." Preston explains.
“When people say this lifestyle can be horrific, it really is. You end up trusting no one and never feel truly safe. I realised growing up that I was never going to be in a position where I could rely on having parents to look after me, but that also extended to the professionals involved in my life too", Preston says.
How we support children who are exploited by criminals
Life started to improve for Preston when, aged 16, he was referred to a Barnardo’s service in the South West of England which supports children and young people who are at risk or being impacted by child criminal exploitation (CCE), child sexual exploitation (CSE) or who go missing. The service runs a project which aims to help young people to create their own brands and products, whether that’s through clothing, art, or music.
He was living in supported accommodation when a Barnardo’s project worker came to visit, gently explained about the service and asked if he would like to get involved. Preston thought it sounded interesting, so she arranged for him to visit the service.
“When I first started coming, initially it felt a bit daunting to be in a safe environment with 'normal' people, it was almost unsettling, but the team of project workers were so nice and welcoming" said Preston.
He liked that the Barnardo's office was homely, rather than corporate feeling. However, he remained sceptical that as an intervention it would make a difference, because he had previously been let down by a lot of services and charities. He was happy to find that he could trust this service.
“I stuck with it to see if Barnardo’s would deliver on their promises - and they did deliver. That’s why I have a degree of trust with them and the project worker who was assigned to me. He's ten years older than me. Having a positive role model is so important and he’s given me inspiration, but also useful advice and practical help.”
At the service, every product is designed by young people, and their sale goes towards supporting Barnardo's, but also back to the young person as revenue.
“It’s the last part of the cycle which many people often forget but is so important”, Preston says. “If a child or young person who is being criminally exploited finds once an intervention occurs you have no proper way to make an income and no opportunities for meaningful employment, then intervening without providing that young person with the necessary resources and long-term plan is completely pointless.”
"I don't have the capacity to fail"
In ten years time Preston hopes to have a successful business, but also be a youth worker.
"I don’t have the capacity to fail. I have responsibilities and need to look after my mum, my little brother, and my nan. I recently bought my mum some clothes and shoes as she had neither - just to see her happy was brilliant.”
Preston concludes: “The child or young person who finds themselves dealing on the streets in another life could have been starting out and working on a trading floor in a shiny office in London. Ultimately everyone is ambitious, and everyone wants the same things: a proper income, so you can have an enjoyable life, but also positive relationships with people who care about you. When you combine the two that’s when a person achieves true wealth - not just financial, but emotional too. Barnardo’s has got this right, and I hope this approach can be rolled out across its services and the wider youth work sector.”
*Names have been changed and models used to protect the identities of the young people we help.