THE number of children at risk of exploitation by criminal gangs and sexual predators in Bolton has risen in the past year, councillors have heard.

Teams working on protecting youngsters in the borough have seen an ‘increase in young people who were being criminally exploited and trafficked through county lines’.

Bolton Council has outlined a new approach to the problem with specialist staff recruited in the past year to intervene in cases at an early stage.

There has also been increased swapping of intelligence with the police.

A meeting of the council’s schildren’s services scrutiny committee heard shocking figures of the numbers of open exploitation cases currently being investigated in Bolton.

At present there 18 open child criminal exploitation cases, affecting 17 boys and one girl.

There are also currently 11 cases of sexual exploitation ongoing, which are in relation to 10 girls and one boy.

The committee heard from Ian Walker, who delivered a presentation on exploitation and human trafficking.

He outlined the work of Bolton’s complex safeguarding team (CST) and provided an explanation of the different forms of exploitation and types of grooming methods that were used in relation to children.

He said: “In order to respond to children and young people who are at risk of exploitation Bolton have developed an integrated complex safeguarding team.

“The aim of the CST is to identify, respond and disrupt the exploitation of children and young people.

“The team consists of Greater Manchester police, social workers, support workers and a clinical psychologist.

“They have noted an increase in young people who are being criminally exploited and trafficked through county lines.

“There has been an evidential increase in child criminal exploitation over the last 12 months.

“The increase in referrals could be reflective of the training provided by Bolton Council to social care staff in recognising the signs of exploitation. ”

The team offers intensive support to these children and young people, while working with GMP to disrupt any perpetrators identified.

The meeting heard that as part of their new approach Bolton Council had recently recruited a safer schools officer and a serious youth violence worker.

Other new members of the team were a hospital navigator for when young people presented at hospital with an injury caused by a weapon and a clinical psychologist .

These posts had been funded through the violence reduction unit supported by the community safety partnership.

Members were also informed Bolton had recently amalgamated its criminal prevention, youth justice and complex safeguarding services.

This alignment is designed to provide a streamlined approach to respond to the complexities around adolescent safeguarding and risk and ensure that the child or young person had the correct service to respond to their needs.

Chair of the committee, Cllr Mohammed Iqbal confirmed that the committee would monitor the issues more frequently.

He said: “An update on child exploitation will be submitted to future meetings of the children’s scrutiny committee on at least two occasions during the municipal year and that written updates be provided to the scrutiny committee members on a quarterly basis.”