Vulnerable children ‘at greater risk of exploitation’ this summer, says UK charity

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More children are at risk of exploitation in the UK this summer, as families struggle to afford activities during the holidays and youngsters expected to be spending more time without adult supervision whilst online or outside.

That’s the warning from children’s charity Barnardo’s, which says that holiday periods can trap some children into harmful situations where they have nobody to turn to.

Coupled with the cost-of-living crisis that is affecting huge swathes of society, the fear is that even more children will be vulnerable to criminal or sexual exploitation.

A survey by Barnardo’s of just over 700 children aged 11-17 and 1,100 parents and carers has shown that this summer will be particularly difficult for families, with almost half of parents and carers (46 per cent) surveyed saying they will struggle to afford family holidays and days out. Around a quarter cannot afford activities like childcare and holiday clubs, while one in five cannot afford time off work to spend with their children.

Many children say they will spend more time online during the upcoming holidays than during term time and, tellingly, one in 10 say they already communicate with people they have met online but don’t know in person. A similar amount will meet up with people they have met online this summer, which is why Barnardo’s is so concerned that, under such circumstances, the risk of exploitation will increase.

Lynn Perry, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, said: “During the pandemic, we saw a rise in new forms of exploitation – with children increasingly groomed, recruited and exploited over social media, chat rooms, and on gaming platforms. What starts in the virtual world can quickly move to in-person sexual and criminal exploitation.

Whilst all children, regardless of age, location or background can be vulnerable to sexual and criminal exploitation, with many families struggling to afford the basics, let alone activities for their children during the holidays, some children are particularly at risk this summer.

The charity says that the experiences of its frontline workers mean it is well aware of the increased risks of child exploitation. “At the current moment in time it is the easiest way for the [young people I support] to get extra money to have a bit of food, hot water, to put the electric on is, you know, maybe doing drug dealing,” reports one of its workers, a theme that was echoed by colleagues in a recent survey.

Lynn Perry continued: “We know exploitation can be life-changing, often leaving children traumatised and feeling alone. Yet worryingly, not all children receive the specialist support they need, due to a ‘postcode lottery’. Last year, Barnardo’s supported over 6,000 children through our child abuse and exploitation services, but we know there are many more who desperately need help.

“The Government must invest in nationwide access to help, such as therapy and counselling, so that all children experiencing abuse and exploitation have the best possible chance to recover and rebuild their lives.”

Click here for more about Barnardo’s.

Click here for the National Crime Agency, and more about its work to protect children from exploitation.

Author: Simon Weedy

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