VULNERABLE children who are at risk of exploitation in and around the railway in Scotland are set to be better supported with a charity set to launch a vital project at the country’s busiest station.

Railway Children, which works to reach young people on the railway before abusers can, revealed ambitions last year to bring its work to Scotland but were in desperate need of funding.

Eighteen months on and the Cheshire-based charity is on the verge of launching a project at Glasgow Central which will allow them to work directly with young people around the city who are pushed onto the network for the wrong reasons.

It means that when British Transport Police (BTP) has spoken to a young person it has been made aware of and returned them to safety, officers can refer them to Railway Children which can help the child further.

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Youth practitioners will carry out welfare visits with the child and create a bespoke support plan in the hope of preventing them from returning to the situation they were in.

Glasgow Central is in the BTPs’ top five stations in the UK for safeguarding incidents involving young people, where officers are called to speak to a child in a potentially vulnerable or dangerous situation.

However, it is the only station in the top 10 where Railway Children has not had a project so far.

Francesca McKay, regional manager for Scotland and project lead, said there are issues specific to Glasgow the team can now start to try and resolve.

She told The National: “There’s of course a lot more work to do across the UK but I think it’s really exciting this is our first step into Scotland.

“This isn’t just an issue in Glasgow but it’s a good place to start because Central is the busiest station in Scotland. The footfall is mind-blowing and there are issues particular to Glasgow in and around Central station.

“There are concerns in the area around Central station around child criminal exploitation and anti-social behaviour and it’s an area at weekends and evenings where there is a lot of young people around.

The National: Railway Children has hosted sleep out events at Glasgow Central to raise awareness of vulnerable children drawn to the rail networkRailway Children has hosted sleep out events at Glasgow Central to raise awareness of vulnerable children drawn to the rail network (Image: NQ)

“It’s not just Central, of course, you’ve got Queen Street a few minutes away. Between the two you’re covering a lot of the country in terms of the rail network so there’s a lot of passing through, so it is a good place to start.

“The main hope in Glasgow Central is we can really bring together all the partners we need to ensure children and young people are safeguarded on the network and that we can be the catalyst for that.”

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The charity will be able to start taking referrals in the next few weeks and there will be an official launch event at the station at the end of next month. 

There are all sorts of reasons young people can be attracted to the rail network and feel compelled to keep going back. They could be running away from home and then get pulled into the drugs or sex trade, and some will even go to stations or the tracks to end their lives.

Railway Children will be able to take referrals from BTP for any child resident in the Glasgow City Council area, no matter where on the rail network they were found in a vulnerable situation.

But the charity will also be working more closely with partners including ScotRail and Network Rail as well as station staff to build up a solid picture of the issues specific to the station and ensure everyone knows how to look out for vulnerable children and what to do.

Funding for the project has centrally come from Avanti West Coast and train manufacturer Alstom but donations have also come from the likes of the Caledonian Sleeper, which raised £5000 from its anniversary whisky for the charity.

McKay said: “We plan to have information stalls at the station in the coming weeks and have as much of a presence as possible. We want to find out people’s experience of the rail network in terms of children and young people.

“If you see a child at a time of day that seems strange for them to be at a station or on a train, or if they’re travelling without a ticket, or something just doesn’t seem right, BTP are always that first port of call and we want people to feel confident to flag something if it feels out of the ordinary.

“There might be one specific incident that leads a child to be in contact with BTP which might be something quite small, but then when we step in we can see what is going on for them at home or in education and make that long-term difference in their life.”