What is Child Exploitation and how can carers spot the signs?

What is Child Exploitation and how can carers spot the signs?

The Fostering Foundation is committed to preventing Child Exploitation and helping carers reduce the risks


What is Child Exploitation?
The term Child Exploitation refers to young people who are victims of grooming or coercion by adults into illegal activity. Most commonly, this falls under the categories of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) and Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).

The scale of these problems has become more known in recent years as the news and documentaries have brought cases to wider attention, but we at The Fostering Foundation believe it’s important to understand how adults can spot the signs early and help vulnerable children to stay safe.

Typically, Child Exploitation begins with grooming a child, which is where an adult or gang of adults build a friendship with a young person. Often, they will give the child gifts or support – such as lifts in their car, alcohol and more – before building on that trust.

In Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) they may begin giving the child small tasks for payment, which makes them feel including and indebted to the group. Then, they may begin demanding more explicitly criminal activity, and may threaten harm if the child does not comply.

Children who are victims of Sexual Exploitation (CSE) often experience similar grooming at first but may be coerced into performing or allowing sexual acts either in person or over the internet. It is important to note that one in three victims of CSE are boys, and children of any gender with additional needs are more at risk.

What are the signs of Child Exploitation?
We at The Fostering Foundation believe it is important to understand that any young person being exploited is, first and foremost, a victim. Therefore, safeguarding these children is a major priority.

According to research by social business Catch22, there are a range of common signs displayed by victims of Child Exploitation. These indicators are similar in victims of Child Sexual Exploitation, Child Criminal Exploitation and children missing from home, but can often be missed or attributed to “bad behaviour” or “teenage rebellion”.

These indicators include:

  • Recurrent sexually transmitted infections
  • Skipping school
  • Staying out late or overnight
  • Unexplained gifts or new possessions
  • Drug and alcohol misuse
  • Secretive behaviour
  • Youth offending behaviour
  • Inappropriate or sexualised behaviour
  • Friendships or relationships with older adults
  • Significant changes in mood or behaviour
  • Sudden changes in appearance (clothing, hygiene, etc)
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated
  • Poor mental state (such as self-harm)
  • Excessive time spent on social media talking to ‘friends’ they haven’t met

How can I reduce the risks?
Positive and secure relationships with adults can significantly reduce the risk of a child being exploited, which is why The Fostering Foundation is proud to provide our foster carers with specialised training designed to identify and support at-risk children.

Some of these training courses include (but are not limited to):
Managing challenging behaviour
Working with children who display sexualised behaviour
Safeguarding & CSE
De-escalation/Positive intervention

It’s particularly important to monitor a child’s social media usage, however difficult that may seem in our digital world. This is because many perpetrators – particularly of CSE – use multiple social media accounts and platforms to target their victims and create a connection before meeting in person.

As well as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, SnapChat, YouTube and Skype, carers should also be aware of other mobile social apps that have been identified by police as being used in cyber-enabled crimes.

It is important that carers and young people understand that a person’s internet profile may not be an honest reflection of who they are. According to Merseyside Police, these apps include:

  • Kik – a free mobile messaging app used by teenagers
  • OoVoo – a free app that allows groups to exchange pictures, video chat and instant message from devices or through Facebook.
  • Chatroulette – a video chat site that connects you with a random user from anywhere in the world
  • musical.ly and live.ly – two mobile app built around sharing video reels and live videos
  • Whisper – an anonymous messaging app
  • YikYak – a messaging app that allows users to speak to any other users within a certain distance
  • Meet Me – connecting users based on their location and interests
  • MyLOL – a teen dating app open to users between ages 13-25
  • Rando 4me – allowing anonymous, random image sharing between users
  • Periscope – a live broadcasting app that works in conjunction with Twitter

More resources:

Get Safe Online – a guide to using social media for children, parents and guardians
NSCPP – a guide to parental controls and how to monitor your child’s internet usage
Catch 22 – resources for professionals and carers about how to spot the signs of CE
Stop CE – a national campaign to prevent Child Exploitation

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