HUNDREDS of Oxfordshire victims of child exploitation have been helped by a service described as 'unique and much needed' according to an independent review.

In the wake of Operation Bullfinch - a police investigation which found up to 373 children had potentially been abused in the county between 1999 and 2014 - New Beginnings was set up to support survivors.

The Oxfordshire County Council-funded programme, launched by Elmore Community Services in 2016, has recently undergone an independent evaluation, with the findings published on October 18 in honour of Anti Slavery Day.

Dr Nadia Wager, the independent evaluator of the New Beginnings service and director of the None in Three Centre at the University of Huddersfield, said: “Having conducted a deep-dive into case-files and in-depth interviews with a range of different stakeholders involved with Elmore's New Beginnings service, we have grown immense admiration for the service and the individual team members.

“Their commitment to enable this group of people, who typically fall between the gaps in statutory service provision, to move forward from, and thrive following, the horrors they have experienced, is truly phenomenal.”

The evaluation found the New Beginnings service supports people with 'compassion, commitment, and tenacity’.

The evaluation found:

• Survivors were aged between 17 and 50 when referred into New Beginnings, most (82 per cent) were female and 52 per cent had children although not all were in their care

• One of the key needs of survivors revolved around their lack of permanent and secure housing, with a significant proportion being homeless or sofa-surfing both of which elevated their risk for revictimisation.

• The complexity of survivors needs were reflected in the wide range of agencies involved in the service.

• The service has an impact on both the clients and society more broadly, including support to the survivor that enabled them to give evidence in a trial that led to the successful conviction of the offenders.

Child sexual exploitation is a form of abuse associated with harmful and potentially long-term effects, further compounded by the fact perpetrators target adolescents who are vulnerable.

The overall conclusion of the evaluation is that it is a ‘unique, much needed, highly flexible service to a vulnerable group of people who have experienced horrific and multiple forms of victimisation and whose needs cannot be met by other services’.

Tom Hayes, chief executive of Elmore Community Services, said: “Elmore’s New Beginnings service is exceptional because it meets the needs of vulnerable people that simply could not be met anywhere else.

“This independent evaluation shows the value of an approach that isn’t ‘one size fits all’ but, instead, works with the diverse needs and aspirations of adult survivors of CSE on an individual basis.

“This has made a significant difference to the more than forty people in Oxford supported by Elmore to have New Beginnings after being forced to experience child sexual exploitation.”