Police officers will target Shefford as part of an initiative to tackle child exploitation.

Bedfordshire police officers will team up with youth and charity workers to conduct joint outreach work, with the first patrol taking place in Shefford and Biggleswade today, and future visits planned to Bedford and Leighton Buzzard over the coming months.

The aim of the TREE project – Tackling, Reducing and Ending Exploitation – will be to engage with young people and the wider community and signpost people to support services.

Bedfordshire police say the geographical areas to target were chosen for a number of reasons, but "primarily around the number of young people the teams would be able to engage with on each session".

The project is being led by the Bedfordshire Youth Offending Service - part of both Bedford and Central Bedfordshire councils - and funded by the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU).

Kimberley Lamb, head of the VERU, said: “This project is getting people directly out into communities to make a difference and engage with young people who might be impacted by things like child criminal exploitation.

“This face to face interaction is undoubtedly the best way to make an impact on a child’s life and show them that a better path and a brighter future is possible."

Councillor Sue Clark - Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive member for families, education and children - said: “We recognise that no single agency can tackle exploitation alone. Working together is key to making sure our young people are safe.

“Our children’s services teams will use the patrols as an opportunity to provide early intervention and support to young people who may be at risk of exploitation, and we’re really pleased to be involved in such an important project.”

Councillor Colleen Atkins, portfolio holder for community safety at Bedford Borough Council, said: “I’m delighted this initiative is being launched.

"Partnership working is key to being visible in the community, offering early intervention and signposting to meaningful services to help tackle the exploitation of young people.”