Training from police for local Gateshead drivers will help prevent child sexual exploitation, it is hoped
Cabbies are being trained to spot and help vulnerable young people.
Taxi drivers and private hire operators in Gateshead will learn how to identify children and young people who are at risk of being sexually exploited, on a new course.
Drivers will receive safeguarding advice and details of who to contact about report any suspicions they may have, in order to keep vulnerable passengers safe.
The training is being delivered by the police and the Gateshead Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) on behalf of Gateshead Council.
The free sessions will be made available to around 700 hackney carriage drivers and private hire vehicle drivers in Gateshead over the coming weeks, along with call handlers and despatch staff.
Anneliese Hutchinson, service director of development and public protection at Gateshead Council, said it was vital that taxi drivers know how they can help protect children and young people from sexual exploitation.
“Helping to keep vulnerable children and young people safe is everyone’s business,” she said.
“Taxi drivers’ work brings them into daily contact with people across Gateshead who may be at risk of harm. We are not expecting them to make the decision on whether a child is at risk, but we do want to help them to be confident on what to report and who to report to.
“Drivers are in a unique position to see and report anything they feel concerned about, whether that’s a child in the wrong company or a young person who seems vulnerable.”
And Coun John McElroy, cabinet member for environment and transport at Gateshead Council added: “This training is designed to make sure that our license holders know how to report anything they see which makes them feel uneasy.
“Their work may also give them an insight into certain venues or locations that have raised their suspicions.
“Again we want them to know where to report those concerns. Everyone needs to play their part in making communities more aware that children are vulnerable and drivers are in an important position to look for signs of abuse.”
Phil Jones, proprietor of Blaydon Cabs, who has around 45 drivers attending the training said: “I am 100% behind this.
“It’s a very worrying issue nationally and it’s only right that taxi drivers, who can help a lot in spotting anything untoward, should play their part in helping to stop this.
“Drivers have a duty of care towards our customers and if they do see any signs, or notice any patterns of suspicious behaviour, then they need to flag it up.
“We are always looking for ways of giving a better service to the public and being alert to this and aware of what to look out for, can only add to what we provide to our customers across Gateshead.”
The safeguarding training must now be completed before drivers’ licenses can be renewed and nine one hour sessions are taking place over the summer.
And anyone applying for their first license as a hackney or private hire driver must undergo the training prior to the license being issued.
The first sessions are taking place at Gateshead Civic Centre this week and are already full. In total almost 300 drivers have signed up for the training, with this number growing day by day.
Gary Hetherington, independent chair of Gateshead LSCB added: “Protecting children and young people remains a key priority for the LSCB and partners in Gateshead.
“CSE is an extremely complex issue and cannot be dealt with quickly by any one single agency, which is why we have a strong partnership approach in Gateshead.”