THESE are some of the youth workers helping Bradford's vulnerable young people back on the right path after being groomed into organised crime.

The pioneering Breaking The Cycle project sees skilled and experienced youth work practitioners to work with those who are involved in, or at risk of being involved with, serious organised crime, urban street gangs, county lines, exploited or are exploiting others, or in receipt of higher than yellow levels of anti-social behaviour sanctions.

Many of these young people are hidden victims who fell prey to those looking to exploit their vulnerabilities. It is not unusual to find that many youngsters are battling with mental health struggles, a difficult home life or drug and alcohol misuse.

It comes against the backdrop of a cut to the Youth Service base budget of £513,000 from 2020-21 onwards, according to a report by Bradford Council.

With headquarters tucked away in Lister Park, dedicated staff are working quietly in the streets and starting up potentially life-changing conversations.

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For Heather Wilson, the commissioner of Youth Provisions, this is one of the most important steps and every word counts.

"The first thing really is we have to develop a relationship with that individual," Heather said.

"We have to build trust with them. The first conversation we're having with them is, 'Why are you hanging around at this particular hour and particular location?'.

"You build that confidence in those young people to talk about what's going on for them. They often tell youth workers quite a lot of information.

"That informal education is a core part of every conversation we're having with young people so we're not seen as a parent.

"You tail back and continue that conversation. You can see in a young person's body language that's starting to feel uncomfortable for them. Sometimes in a group, a young person will not tell you the same thing they'll tell you one on one in person. Often there's quite a lot of bravado in a group and not letting your face down.

"We're in for the long haul really and it requires a real dedicated commitment in order for them to feel supported enough to tell you what's going on. There are times where we are so concerned about people we're working with the police and social care.

"A lot of the young people we're working with they've had many negative experiences. They often have been rejected by people along the way. You do get to the point where they can't see any good in themselves. It's helping that young person to see they can achieve things."

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Nazaket Ali, an advanced practitioner in Bradford Youth Service, says the huge need is a result of the city's high youth population, few after-school activities and a lack of positive role models in their lives.

Many of these at-risk teens aspire to be like those driving 4x4's bought with illegally acquired funds, naively forgetting the dangers that come with such a lifestyle.

Read more: 'They don’t see themselves as victims' - children exploited by criminal gangs

Nazaket explained: "Sometimes we have to have that conversation that disintegrates what they're actually getting involved in.

"We're trying to get them to understand the long term consequences.

"The consequences of actions is paramount to what these young people do.

"They've got that one person they can rely, not only about criminal activity but about normal stuff as well.

"They've got to make their own decisions and life choices.

"At the end of the day that decision's going to be made by that young person that, 'to get to where I need to get to I need to make some better decisions'.

"A lot of young males we work with are absolutely fantastic but they're really struggling to fit in a classroom setting.

"There's a lot of people like that, if you give them a technical job they'll do fantastically but in a class with other young people there's lots of distractions.

"We have to do lots of work around time keeping and time management.

"We've been really successful in getting people back into education."

Read more: New figures highlight ‘stark reality’ of child exploitation in Bradford

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In 2019, 47 young people were accredited with the Lord Mayor's Award.

Others express a strong interest in a certain career field and are connected with leading businesspeople in Bradford who are willing to have deeper discussions. These actions show it is possible to achieve big things legally, Nazaket added.

"95 per cent of young people that have been referred to us have engaged with a youth worker," he said.

Breaking The Cycle is also educating more parents on the warning signs their child is being exploited or exploiting others, such as carrying cash or coming home with a new pair of expensive trainers.

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Cllr Abdul Jabar, Bradford Council’s Executive Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety, said: “Bradford is one of the youngest districts in the UK and it is vital that we do everything we can to support and protect our young people from all forms of exploitation.

“I am extremely proud of the work our Youth Service is doing with partners and stakeholders from other West Yorkshire councils to help children who may be in danger of exploitation and to provide families with the information and support they need to recognise and address the risks.

“The potential for vulnerable young people to become drawn into criminal activity is a national rather than local issue but we would be failing in our safeguarding responsibility as a local authority if we were slow to act against its pernicious impact in the Bradford district.”

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