WHEN Jennifer Smith was seven she heard that barristers earned £75 an hour and vowed then to become one herself.

“They didn’t, as it happened,” she laughed. “But I’d made up my mind and so that’s what I became.”

That early career decision has led Jennifer, now 37, along a challenging path that has taken her into the worrying world of safeguarding children and all that means in light of today’s technology.

None of this, though, could have been guessed by the determined little girl who was the first child of Pauline and Jim Birch. Jennifer’s brother, James, died at the age of one from a rare cancer and her mother began fundraising in his memory which made her high-profile.

That, combined with her dad’s job as a local policeman, gave Jennifer not only an early social conscience but a strong sense of community that has been a driving force throughout her life.

“My dad seemed to know everyone and was respected,” she said. “One of my earliest memories is of going to an Indian wedding off Blackburn Road where we had all been invited because of my dad.”

Jennifer went to High Lawn Primary School and then Canon Slade School before taking a law degree at the University of Hull. Her love affair with London had already begun through an aunt who lived there so Jennifer took her bar finals in London, and stayed there for the next five years.

As a Northern lass in arguably one of the most elitist professions, life was not easy. For a start, she had a strong Bolton accent – “which I tried to change until my relatives in Great Lever told me off for ‘talking posh’!” recalled Jennifer.

She applied for pupillage in 200 different chambers, was given an interview by 12 and offered a place by only one. She took it and embarked on a legal career as a barrister in which she dealt with a wide cross-section of cases from family and crime to immigration.

On one of her visits home, she re-met Kieron Smith – a friend she had known since she was three. “I think I probably always loved Kieron but we got together and that was it,” said Jennifer.

A combination of that romantic pull Northwards and her father becoming ill and then dying prompted Jennifer to return to her home town.

By then, she had moved into the specialist field of rape and sexual offences “mainly because no-one else wanted to do it,” she said.

Back home, she joined the Crown Prosecution Service in Manchester, moving into this area of work full-time. “I had to deal with all kinds of distressing cases in detail,” she said. “The only way I could do that was to be completely professional and to do my very best for the vulnerable individuals involved.”

After 10 years working for the CPS, Jennifer decided that she wanted to use her skills and experience in a different way, outside the confines of being a public servant. So she left to form her own company, Safeguarding Today, in April last year.

Now, her work is all around helping organisations and individuals to safeguard young people and vulnerable adults. As a result, she offers professional training to a variety of organisations including football clubs, schools and carers and others looking after young people.

She has just been joined in the business by Kathryn McKenzie Wareing, a former child protection detective with Greater Manchester Police. Together, they explain the dangers that social media and other areas pose and look at ways to prevent this.

Jennifer, now the mother of three children, feels strongly about empowering young people to make the right kind of decisions for themselves. She understands the concerns that parents may have about paedophiles, and shares them, “but I also think it’s very important to make children very resilient.”

Jennifer believes that arming families with knowledge about areas like sexting and “giving young people choices” allows them to make the right decisions for themselves. Although she says that it’s tempting for parents to believe that paedophiles are everywhere, “not everyone is bad and there are still plenty of nice people around.”

However, she is the informed voice of reason in an increasingly complex field and she believes her upbringing – and a basic dose of Northern common sense – is responsible for this. “I owe my parents a lot,” she concluded.