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 take different forms. This includes:

  • Child criminal exploitation – when a child is manipulated or pressured to take part in criminal activity, including selling drugs. 
  • Child sexual exploitation – a type of sexual abuse where someone is coerced, manipulated or pressured into sexual activity (this might be in exchange for gifts, affection, money or social status).

Both types of exploitation can be hard for a child to recognise and they may not understand that they are being coerced. 

Educating your child

Spend quality time with your child on a regular basis. This can help you stay connected to what is going on in their life when they’re not with you.

Make sure they know they can speak to you about anything. People who exploit children often rely on the child not telling anyone. We have some advice on talking about difficult topics. 

Talk to them about the risks of child exploitation. Help them to spot the signs of coercion by talking to them about manipulative behaviour. 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, talk your child’s school for some more information.

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.
  • Changing patterns of behaviour, including regularly going missing.
  • Problems in school – they might skip school or get into trouble more often.
  • Unexplained money, where and you’re not sure where they’ve got it from.
  • Unexplained gifts.
  • Change of physical appearance, including the type of clothes they wear.
  • Changes in behaviour – they might be more aggressive or more secretive.
  • Changes in their language, including the use of slang words or code words for drugs or sex.
  • Experimenting with drugs or alcohol.
  • Unsafe use of the internet or spending a lot more time online.
  • 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. Contact their school and tell them everything that makes you worried.

You can also speak 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 council’s website.

Contact CEOP for advice on keeping your child safe.  Or the NSPCC has trained counsellors on live chat or phone, if you’re worried your child is being abused. 

If your child is in immediate danger, ring the police by dialling 999. You should also contact the police if you don’t know where your child is and you’re concerned they are being exploited.

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