Children in council care 'turning to prostitution'

HEATHER MILLS

Home Affairs Correspondent

Some children going into social service care in South Wales are leaving as prostitutes, according to a suppressed report into child sex in the area.

A draft of the report says that about 50 teenagers in Cardiff are prostituting themselves, and some of them were introduced to the business only after entering the care system.

It concludes: "Some young people will be involved in prostitution before they enter local authority accommodation ... but for others the local authority accommodation system and particularly residential units can create what one worker described as 'a network of opportunity' for young people to get involved in risk behaviours such as prostitution."

It quotes one youth talking about why he became a prostitute: "It just happened when I went into care and stuff like that. I got introduced to things and I ended up trying to see what it was like."

The study, by the University of Cardiff and the Children's Society, was partly funded and commissioned by South Glamorgan County Council, and a variety of children's charities, which have so far failed to publish its findings.

But details were revealed in last night's BBC Wales's Week In, Week Out documentary, which alleges that the local authority was worried about bad publicity. The programme had a leaked memorandum from the former director of social services, Chris Perry, saying: "I wanted to do nothing which would link South Glamorgan to child prostitution in any way."

It also showed a letter from one of the report's authors to the local authority, urging publication: "It would be unfortunate indeed if concern over the consequences for the county council of reporting such an issue were to take precedence over promoting knowledge and awareness of youth prostitution more widely."

In the film, the present social services director, John Jevons, said the report was the property of a voluntary organisation, who "have expressed their intention to publish it next year".

He said: "Children who come into our care ... they are damaged and inevitably a small proportion will engage in undesirable activities. That's a fact and every social services department needs to divert them from this.

"The actions of South Glamorgan, which have taken place over a number of years, have been such that there is a heavy investment of council activities and police activities, and other agencies directed toward assisting the problem," he said.

But Allan Levy QC, who headed the "pindown" inquiry into council care in Staffordshire, has called for a national inquiry into child prostitution and attacked the authority for not publishing the findings.

The programme contained interviews with teenage girls in care who described how they can earn hundreds of pounds a night from prostitution, but also describe fear and violence.

One of the girls, Stacey, 15, said she ran away to earn money on the streets. "It's a horrible place to be and everyone I know who has lived there has run away and got involved in prostitution ... because they can't stop you from going out ... so you just do it," she says.

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