SPECIAL REPORT: The risks are all too clear but just how can we keep our children safe?

Cyber bullying
Cyber bullying

Predatory paedophiles, internet trolls, drug pushers and cyber bullies are just a few of the new challenges facing our children as they grow up.

From police warnings last year that dangerous drug meow meow is being pedalled to our children, drug raids in Brackley and internet safety briefings in our schools it seems a worrying time for parents at the moment.

But in this special report, we find out just what the risks are, and what we can do to keep our children safe.

“Cyber risks”

Bucks County Council is calling on schools to step up the fight, by having a dedicated cyber bullying champion.

Following a select committee report on child

Bucks County Councillor Val Letheren - Chairman of the Select Committee for Education, Skills and Children's Services

Bucks County Councillor Val Letheren - Chairman of the Select Committee for Education, Skills and Children's Services

internet safety, the council is encouraging schools to train all members of staff in new technologies to make sure they stay ahead of the curve.

Val Letheren, of the education, skills and children’s services select committee, said: “We have all been sickened in recent times by the various high-profile sex and cyber bullying scandals that have emerged nationally, and we know police across the land are doing their utmost to protect young people.

“However, despite all of this our young are at risk as never before by a host of unknown dangers on the internet.”

She added: “What hit us most during our inquiry was the lack of knowledge of some parents and teachers on the issue.

“Some are simply unaware of just what their children are doing online, and it’s time we faced up to the enormity of this issue.”

The select committee interviewed a range of experts and local people during the inquiry, as well as all schools in Buckinghamshire.

It also took advice from Aylesbury-based internet security firm McAffe.

The main findings were that more parents, teachers and people who work with children need to realise that young people are more internet literate than ever before.

One case study was of a young boy who looked at a terrorism website and ended up unable to get a job, while other children took photographs of their parents undressing and posted them on the internet for all to see.

Mrs Letherin, who was the inquiry committee’s chair, added: “Children are risk

takers, and many parents don’t understand the internet as well as their own sons and daughters.

“The internet can be a very useful tool, but we are

encouraging everyone to learn more because at the moment it has spiralled out of control.”

“Helping to steer teens away from drug pushers”

Jim Whatmore, who has headed up Buckingham Youth Club for eight years, thinks drugs can dip in and out of popularity

But it has always been an issue which needs to be taken seriously and handled with care.

He said: “I think it goes in waves. There seems to be an upwave at the moment. There is more of it going on in town.

“I hear different things but I think Ketamin is one and cannabis is always around. I suppose that is where they start, with cannabis.

“I’m not sure smoking is quite what it used to be. It’s not as prevalent with younger people but it seems to be a gateway to things like drugs.”

Shortly before Christmas, police launched a probe to find out how children as young as 15 were getting their hands on dangerous drug, Methedrone.

Known as m-Cat or meow meow, the Class B drug causes memory loss, paranoia, hallucinations and even death.

It comes in powder or tablets and is usually snorted like cocaine or wrapped in paper and swallowed.

Mr Whatmore said: “It’s not something I’d allow to happen but if I found out it was happening, I would certainly do something.

“I feel responsible, because I am a qualified youth worker.

“I’m not going to just turn my back on it. Especially if it affects their careers or their lives.”

Mr Whatmore runs four sessions a week for around 80 teenagers but he thinks youth clubs and sports teams are a way for them to escape being lured in to the drug circles.

“I don’t think the people we see are really into these things,”Mr Whatmore said. “I am sure they are not.

“Clubs are an alternative, in a way because it gets them away from it.

“The people at the clubs, and playing sports, are probably not the ones involved with it because they have a different way of thinking about things.

“Everyone needs somewhere to go, so they are not just hanging around parks.”

“Warning”

Neighbourhood police inspector James Davies said: “Over recent months, the police and our partner agencies have seen a worrying trend.

“Some of our school-age, more vulnerable young people are becoming attracted to mephedrone.

“We have been into the schools and those of you that are parents may have been to some of our talks on these issues. You may have noticed support workers in key areas engaging with young people in Buckingham. This will also continue. But we cannot do this alone.

“I am talking about a small group of about 15 young people – but this is 15 young people too many.

“If you are a parent or carer and your child is 
acting differently, staying out longer, not their normal selves, then talk to them, and if you uncover an issue there are good people you can talk to.

“There are those of you in Buckingham who know, or suspect, who are peddling to these children, and I would ask you, if they were your children would you stand by and let this carry on? “

Call Thames Valley Police on 101 to report any information. Or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Young people with questions about drugs, or parents concerned about their child, can call Young 
Addaction Bucks in complete confidence on 01296 331933 from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. For information see 
www.talktofrank.com