Published Wednesday, 22 August 2012
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A new scheme is being piloted at Willowfield Police Station in east Belfast involving a specialist from Barnardos working with the PSNI's child protection unit.
The aim is to intervene earlier in suspected cases of the sexual exploitation of children.
The scheme is being funded by the charity, and by the police - from assets recovered from criminal activity - until March 2014.
The development comes as the latest figures compiled show an increase in the number of sex offences against children. Last year, there were nearly two sexual offences recorded against 12-17 years old every day.
A survey carried out by the charity shows that 1 in 7 children in the region, who are known to Social Services, are at significant risk of exploitation.
One in nine of 16 year olds in Northern Ireland have experienced an attempt by an adult to sexually groom them.
Jacqui Montgomery - Devlin, Children's Services Manager with Barnardos, says the problem is still very hidden and that the general public are not aware of the signs and symptoms of sexual exploitation.
"We have seen in other some other areas of the UK how joint initiatives between Barnados and the police can work effectively to try and prevent more children being sexually exploited, particularly those who are going missing from home or care.
"What we know is probably the tip of the iceberg," Ms Montgomery - Devlin told UTV, in relation to the statistics.
"In a way, they are pretty frightening - and pretty high. It's good to see them because what it does prove is that what we've been saying for a number of years is true - that this is happening in Northern Ireland."
George Hamilton, Assistant Chief Constable, told UTV that he believes the scheme will be "hugely effective."
"We unashamedly want to disrupt and make life difficult for criminals - that is what we do as police officers," he said, discussing the source of the funding.
"It's good whenever we can take away probably one of their main commodities which is cash and put it into something good for communities - into protecting children and young people."
It is hoped that if this pilot project is successful it will be extended to other police stations across Northern Ireland.