#LookCloser to stop child exploitation

Today marks the launch of the Children’s Society #LookCloser campaign, raising awareness of all forms of child exploitation, working with the public and partner agencies to spot the signs and intervene early to protect young people. Today’s blog is authored by James Simmonds, National Programme Manager of the Children’s Society:

James Simmonds, Children’s Society

Every year, in different types of communities across the UK, thousands of children and young people are subjected to horrific exploitation and abuse.

Perpetrators groom children in person and online, then exploit them for sex or use terrifying threats and violence to force them into crimes such as money laundering or dealing drugs in ‘county lines’ operations. Some are made to work in premises like cannabis farms and nail bars, or to beg outside train stations and shopping centres. 

Across England, child sexual abuse was identified as a risk in 19,850 assessments of children referred to social services, while children going missing, which can also be a sign of young people being coerced into crime, was a factor in 14,940 instances. Gang involvement was highlighted in 12,720 assessments, a clear indicator of exploitation while in 2,710 instances trafficking was deemed to be a factor.

Sadly, many children are too frightened to tell adults what is happening and they may not trust the services that are meant to protect them. They may also have been manipulated so that they do not see themselves as victims.

That’s why during the week of Monday 3 October, The Children’s Society is running a ‘Look Closer’ Awareness Week. 

Our #Look Closer campaign, which is supported by the National Police Chiefs Council and forces including the British Transport Police, urges not only professionals and parents, but also the public and businesses to be vigilant for signs of child exploitation and abuse and report any concerns. Everyone, from commuters, and online gamers, to shoppers and people working in public-facing roles, such as transport, shop and hotel staff, can play their part. 

Any child from any background, including boys, girls and trans and non-binary children can be groomed for all types of exploitation. 

This winter, the cost of living crisis and financial pressures facing families may leave some children particularly vulnerable to grooming by perpetrators who offer them cash, food and gifts.

Young victims may also be targeted with offers of drugs, friendship, love, status and even gaming credits. 

Signs of exploitation could include children having large amounts of cash or unexplained gifts; appearing under the control of others or under the influence of drugs or alcohol; looking lost; or travelling alone at night. Children may seem upset, anxious or scared, but trauma can also make them appear angry or aggressive. 

During the Look Closer Awareness week, police forces across the country will be helping to share this crucial message among both their own officers and staff, as well as the wider public. 

At the same time The Children’s Society’s regional Prevention Officers are working with police and other professionals across the country to raise awareness of exploitation among staff working in different public spaces, while also reaching the public with messaging at train stations, shopping centres and at roadside service stations. Free online learning sessions about spotting signs of exploitation and helping to protect children are on offer for professionals working with, managing and commissioning services for young people.

There are also sessions planned for safeguarding professionals and other organisations about intelligence on exploitation, child financial exploitation – for instance, when young people are manipulated and coerced to hold proceeds of crime in their bank account – and about the practice of children being made to carry drugs inside their bodies.

Anyone worried about a child should 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. Further advice is available from the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800500. 

Every report, gives police a vital opportunity to investigate and potentially help a child access vital support to escape horrendous abuse – while also generating crucial intelligence about those exploiting them.

More information about Look Closer (including the free sessions on offer to professionals) is available at www.childrenssociety.org.uk/lookcloser