Children’s Society calls on public to help spot signs of child exploitation

During the Look Closer Awareness Week running during the week commencing May 17, staff from The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme will be offering online learning events to professionals across police forces, local authorities, to employees working in the hotel, banking and transport sectors, churches and to staff at professional football clubs including community outreach coaches.

Resources including posters, leaflets and social media content will be shared with these groups as well as taxi drivers, street pastors, housing associations, businesses, and train and bus companies, while the campaign will be promoted on digital billboards at rail stations. 

Police forces across the country are supporting the campaign and during the week they will be helping to raise awareness of its importance among both their own officers and staff, as well as the wider public. 

Any child or young person from any community can be vulnerable to being groomed, exploited and abused. But they may not raise concerns because they have been manipulated and may not see themselves as victims – or they may be too afraid amid threats of violence. 

What are the key signs a child or young person could be at risk?  

  • Children travelling alone, especially if this is late at night or on a regular basis. If they are being criminally exploited they may be sent significant distances and may be missing from home.   
  • They may lost or appear as though they are in unfamiliar surroundings.   
  • They may appear anxious, frightened or angry, but they may also appear disruptive or aggressive – a common response to trauma.   
  • They might appear under the control or instruction of others, including people who are older than them and do not appear to be family members.   
  • You may see them with large amounts of cash.   
  • Signs of a child being at risk online, could include them talking about older or new friends they have met online, talking about gifts or money they have received online, receiving large numbers of calls or messages, being worried about being away from their phone and having a new phone or more than one phone. Learn about online safety, talk to them about it and take as much interest in their friends online as you would offline friends. 

Across the country, thousands of children and young people are subjected to horrific exploitation and abuse every year.

They are groomed by predators with offers of friendship, gifts, cash and status then coerced using terrifying threats and violence into crimes like trafficking drugs in ‘county lines’ operations. Children are also exploited for sex and some are forced to work in premises like car washes and nail bars.

In the North West in 2019/20, gangs were identified as a risk 2,110 times in assessments of children referred to social services, while trafficking was deemed to be a factor on 400 occasions, both indicators of child criminal exploitation. Risks of child sexual exploitation were highlighted in 2,840 assessments and in 3,160 instances, children going missing, also a sign of exploitation, was pinpointed as a factor.

Anyone worried about a child can call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111. If there is an immediate risk to a child dial 999. If you are on a train text British Transport Police on 61016. You may not be sure about your concerns, but trust your instincts. Your phone call could be a crucial first step in helping a child escape a situation of terrible abuse and unimaginable trauma.

Image credit: Kat Jayne

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