Child exploitation: what you need to know

Child exploitation is something you might hear a lot about on the news. It can be worrying for parents and carers to think about it.

By understanding what child exploitation means, you can be more prepared to protect your child if you ever think they’re in danger.

child exploitation: a boy in a yellow t-shirt looks at their tablet

What is exploitation?

Exploitation is when someone takes advantage of a child for their own profit or gain. It can show up in different ways. This includes child criminal exploitation and child sexual exploitation.

  • Child criminal exploitation is when a child is manipulated or pressured to take part in criminal activity. This can include selling drugs and is also linked to other crimes.
  • Child sexual exploitation is a type of abuse. It involves coercing, manipulating or pressuring a child into sexual activity. This might be in exchange for gifts, affection, money or social status.

Talk to your child

  • Spend quality time with your child on a regular basis. It’s a great way to stay connected to what is going on in their life when they’re not with you.
  • Make sure they know they can talk to you about anything. People who exploit children often rely on the child not telling anyone. Your child needs to know you will listen without judgement, rather than getting angry. That way, they are more likely to tell you about any concerns. We have some advice on talking about difficult topics. 
  • Talk to them about the risks of child exploitation. This might look different depending on their age and level of understanding. There are some resources online that can help you with this.
  • If your child has additional learning needs and find talking hard, it may help to teach them to communicate in other ways.
  • If you are unsure you can talk to someone at your child’s school for some more information. Or you can use our one-to-one live chat to talk to one of our expert parenting coaches.

Signs your child might be being exploited

You may notice a change in your child’s behaviour, such as:

  • Sudden changes in their friendship groups.
  • Problems in school. They might skip school or get into trouble more often.
  • Unexplained money. If they have money and you’re not sure where they’ve got it from.
  • Unexplained gifts. If they have new posessions and you don’t know where or who they came from.
  • Change of physical appearance, including the type of clothes they wear.
  • Changes in behaviour. They might be more aggressive, or more secretive.
  • Experimenting with drugs or alcohol.
  • Unsafe use of the internet. This might include sharing indecent and nude pictures. It might be having conversations about sex. Or about drug taking and other crimes.
  • Unexplained injuries. This might be because of self-harm, or harm caused by someone else.
  • Being picked up in cars driven by adults you don’t know.
  • Being in a relationship with someone who is much older than them.

Not all of these things will always mean your child is being exploited, so try to take a calm and open approach with your child to find out what’s going on.

What should I do if I'm worried?

  • If you worry your child is a victim of child exploitation, talk to someone about it.
  • Reach out to their school and tell them everything that makes you worried.
  • You can also reach out to your local children’s services. The process is slightly different depending on where you live. But the information should be available on your local authority’s website.
  • If your child is in immediate danger, ring the police by dialling 999.
  • You should also ring the police if you don’t know where your child is and you’re worried they are being exploited.
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