Spotlight on Exploitation: Drug Debt

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Spotlight on Exploitation: Drug Debt

18 March 2022 was National Child Exploitation Awareness Day and this spotlight aims to raise awareness of the risks and issues that our children and young people face and also of resources that can help with supporting them.

Find out more about how children are exploited and the services and resources available in Waltham Forest to help support them in this Spotlight.

Please share this bulletin with your colleagues and encourage them to sign up to get it regularly.

5:59 - a short film about drug debt


5:59 is a short film created by a group of young people in Waltham Forest called Voices in Partnership and directed by local film-maker Neil Garrett.

The film explores the activities of a young person named Jamal, explaining the reasons for his entry into criminal activity and the consequences he experiences due to this. 

Jamal may be fictional, but his story is sadly not unique, as organised criminals purposely prey on children and vulnerable adults. Often, those who are being exploited, don't see themselves as victims, which is why it's important to take a trauma-informed approach. 

Watch 5:59

This film has an accompanying 7 minute briefing that provides some additional detail and information. Both aim to raise awareness about drug debt and the difference that effective support from professionals can make to children and young people who are being exploited.   

7 minute briefing on 5:59

Daniel Phelps, Corporate Director for Children's Social Care, wrote an article for The Municipal Journal this week about 5:59

Read Daniel's piece

Our approach to safeguarding adolescents at risk of exploitation

It is so important that we see children as children first.

It may be tempting to view and treat some children as mini adults which can often be the case for Black children who are more likely to be perceived and treated as adults, sometimes referred to as ‘adultification’. 

Making a connection with a child or vulnerable adult in a reachable moment could be potentially life-changing for them.

Read about Child E who was thought to be older, or you can also read about why the experience of child sexual abuse of Black girls and women is often missed.

Our vision and approach to how we work to safeguard children and young people at risk of exploitation is outlined in our Safeguarding Adolescents Practice Guide and there is an accompanying interactive resource to support learning and understanding of this complex issue.

Learn more about in the guide below:

Safeguarding Adolescents Practice Guide

Empowering parents and carers


Parents need support too. They shouldn’t be judged either. Organised criminal activity is complex to understand and can be distressing, especially for parents whose children are being exploited.

It’s crucial that we work with parents to raise awareness and improve understanding. There are services that can help with this, such as Ask Us.

Learn more about Ask Us

Support for vulnerable young people

If you are concerned about the welfare or safety of a child you will need to contact Children’s Social Care. All referrals to Children’s Social Care are first dealt with by the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH).

If you don’t believe the risk requires immediate action, contact the MASH team to discuss your concerns with a social worker.

Call 020 8496 2310 or email

Support for young people: Is This Ok?

is this ok?

Is This Ok? is a free, anonymous and confidential online support service for young people at risk of exploitation.

Using chatbot technology, Is This Ok? brings trained professionals together to provide direct support to young people.

The chatbot was co-created by Waltham Forest's Young Independent Advisory Group (YIAG) and Young Advisors and can be accessed vis the dedicated website: 

Is This OK?

Other resources for tackling child exploitation

The Waltham Forest Safeguarding Children Board leads work around Adolescents Safeguarding & Resilience which is an overarching priority for the Strategic Partnership.

Our vision, approach and ways of working to safeguard adolescents, including tackling child exploitation can be found in our Safeguarding Adolescents Practice Guide (as detailed above):

There are a number of resources available that can be used to improve practice:

Email for more information on these resources

Safeguarding Adolescents Practitioner Network

The Safeguarding Adolescents Practitioner Network brings together individuals from across services and organisations share information and resources and to improve practice when it comes to tackling all forms of child exploitation.

It provides an opportunity to learn about any current safeguarding issues affecting our young people in Waltham Forest. Network events take place about every 6 weeks.

Please complete this five minute survey about safeguarding adolescents on best practice in this area:


If you are interested in signing up to be a Safeguarding Adolescents Lead and be part of the Safeguarding Adolescents Practitioner Network, please contact Addo in Strategic Partnerships:  

Email Addo

This newsletter is brought to you by the Strategic Partnership Boards, which is made up of Waltham Forest Safeguarding Children’s Board, Safeguarding Adults Board, Health & Wellbeing Board and SafetyNet (our Community Safety Partnership).

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