Barnardo’s warns children are at greater risk of exploitation this summer

The UK’s largest children’s charity, Barnardo’s, has warned that more children are at risk of exploitation this summer, as families struggle to afford activities during the school holidays and children are expected to be spending more time without adult supervision whilst online or out in the community.


Exclusive online polling of 729 GB children aged 11-17, and 1,191 GB parents and carers shows this summer will be particularly difficult for families because of the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living-crisis. Almost half of parents and carers (46%) surveyed said they will struggle to afford family holidays and days out. One in four (26%) can’t fund activities like childcare and holiday clubs, and one in five (21%) won’t be able to afford to time off work to spend with their children.


Meanwhile, seven in 10 children (71%) surveyed will spend more time online during the upcoming holidays than during term time. One in 10 children (13%) already communicate with people they have met online but don’t know in person, and almost one in 10 (8%) will meet up with people they have met online this summer. Barnardo’s is warning that, under these difficult circumstances, the risk of exploitation will increase.


Some children are also worried about dangers during school holidays. One in 10 children (11%) asked said they worry about not having anywhere safe to go in their neighbourhood this summer, while 10% said they worry about bumping into criminal gangs in their area over the holidays.


The holidays can trap some children in harmful situations with no-one to turn to. With the cost-of-living crisis continuing to push families into poverty, Barnardo’s fears that even more children will be vulnerable to sexual and criminal exploitation.

Being a victim of sexual or criminal exploitation has serious, long-term impacts on children’s lives. It’s vital that children receive urgent, specialist support to help them recover, but too many are already being failed by a lack of specialist support nationwide.

Preston* 19, who is supported by Barnardo’s, said: “I grew up in a trap house which is basically a home where drug dealing takes place. Trap is exactly the right word for it because that’s the reality, you’re trapped into a never-ending cycle. When people say this lifestyle can be horrific, it really is. You end up trusting no one and never feel truly safe.”


Barnardo’s Chief Executive Lynn Perry MBE 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.


“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.”


Through our frontline work, we know that the cost-of-living crisis is increasing the risks of child exploitation:


· A Barnardo’s practitioner said: “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.”

· In a recent survey of Barnardo’s practitioners almost half (45%) feel that children and young people are at a greater risk of being sexually and/or criminally exploited due to the cost-of-living crisis.


Our latest polling found 82% of parents believe child victims of exploitation should have a right to access support to help them recover. But right now, too many children are left without the help that they desperately need.


Barnardo’s is asking the public to sign our petition which calls on the Government to ensure that no child is left without specialist support after being exploited.

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