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The inspirational story of ECPAT UK’s award-winning youth leader, Debbie Beadle

14 December 2016

Debbie Beadle, ECPAT UK's award-winning youth leaderThe Child 10 Summit 2016 has presented ECPAT UK’s Debbie Beadle, Head of Youth Development, with an award recognising her bold leadership working with innovative solutions to protect children and their rights. 

When Debbie joined ECPAT UK, a leading children’s charity campaigning against child trafficking and child sexual exploitation, as a community trainer in 2006, she saw an opportunity to give young victims a voice.

“I noticed that the voice of the young people who have experienced exploitation, and what ECPAT are fighting against, was missing,” says Debbie Beadle.

She wanted to create a safe space where young people who have been through emotional trauma could socialise and get involved in projects, such as drama and arts, as a way for them to recover from their experiences.

“We do activities such as drama to help them build confidence and encourage them to say what’s on their minds. Many face language barriers and it’s sometimes hard for them to get their points across. We also teach them their rights and important life skills,” says Debbie Beadle, who has a background in teaching children arts and drama.

The ECPAT UK youth programme is based in London, and was the first weekly group for girls and young women who had been trafficked to the UK. The majority come from African countries, mainly Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana and Angola, but also from Vietnam, Albania, South America and China. Some are British nationals who have been forced into sexual exploitation and child labour.

“We get referrals from the police, social services and NGOs who have identified young people being exploited,” explains Debbie Beadle.

Three years ago, the ECPAT UK youth programme developed a weekly support group for boys and young males in partnership with The Children Society.

“Some are very nervous when they first join the group. They can have quite severe mood swings and get very angry. Some suffer from post-traumatic stress and are very fearful. I remember one youngster who wouldn’t make eye contact. The group offers them a safe environment to express their feelings. Even within weeks, they start being more engaged. There is always a lot of laughter, which is important,” says Debbie. 

Using arts, drama and peer support, the youngsters slowly being to regain their confidence. They learn about sexual awareness and sexual health. 

“They have missed a whole gap of learning and don’t know what a healthy relationship is. We also try to give them an understanding of their rights and what they are entitled to,” says Debbie Beadle. 

There are currently 36 youngsters attending the weekly support groups in London. Similar programmes are being planned around the UK.

“It’s an effective programme and we want to replicate it in other places. It’s important that young people get support across the UK; it’s also important they can participate in policy changes as they are the ones who really know what should change,” says Debbie. 

“Witnessing the abuse that children and young people face in the UK made me so angry. Even more so that it wasn’t on the Government’s agenda. I was seeing young people being failed and not being recognised or believed by professionals, who had a lack of training and understanding. Most of all these young people were not being listened to. I wanted to develop space for young people to be heard,” she says.

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ECPAT UK is the leading expert voice on child trafficking in the UK and we offer a comprehensive training programme focused on safeguarding young people from trafficking, modern slavery, and transnational abuse. To find out more visit our training page

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