New Review Finds Criminally Exploited Children Being Harmed by Failing System

A review, commissioned by Action for Children, of the criminal exploitation of children has found the system for dealing with it is not fit for purpose.

The Review makes a series of recommendations, as new research from the charity suggests over 130,000 parents say their child has experienced three or more signs of criminal exploitation in the last 12 months, highlighting the urgent and growing nature of the problem.

The review heard there is currently no agreed legal definition of the criminal exploitation of children, which is a complex type of child abuse where a young person is manipulated or pressured to take part in criminal activity.

It also heard about the scale and depth of the devastation caused to young people, families, and communities across the UK, including how the cost-of-living crisis had exacerbated all forms of exploitation, youth violence, and vulnerability. One witness described poverty “in itself acting as a grooming process”.

There was also evidence that the pandemic significantly increased childhood vulnerability. Concerns were raised about the rising rates of exclusions and school absences – particularly for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), with the risk of children falling through the cracks. Social media and gaming were also cited as key methods of targeting and grooming vulnerable young people.

Seventy organisations and individuals, including Children’s Commissioners from all four nations, contributed to the Review, along with young people and families with lived experience.