Child exploitation

A list of warning signs that a child may be being exploited

  • Skipping school 
  • Staying out late or overnight 
  • Unexplained gifts/new possessions 
  • Drugs and alcohol misuse 
  • Secretive behaviour 
  • Inappropriate or sexualised behaviour 
  • Friendship or relationships with older adults 
  • Significant changes in mood or behaviour changes in appearance (clothes, hygiene, etc). 
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated, poor mental health/self-harm etc. 
  • Lots of time spent on social media talking to ‘friends’ they haven’t met or that you don’t know. 
  • Unexplained injuries 
  • They own a second mobile phone from which they are receiving a high volume of calls or need to leave urgently after receiving a text/call 

Circumstances which may make a child or young person vulnerable to being exploited.

  • Regularly going missing from home
  • Connected to other vulnerable young people known to be exploited and/or involved in gangs.
  • Have a learning difficulty or a Special Educational Need
  • Misusing drugs and alcohol
  • Poor mental health
  • Experience of abuse at home including witnessing violence
  • Concerns about being involved in crime/anti-social behaviour

If a child is experiencing this, it does not mean that they will be exploited. However, it is important to stay aware of the possible warning signs, maintain positive communication with your child on how to keep safe and stay curious about what they do and who they spend time with.

Exploitation usually involves the child/young person receiving something in return such as alcohol, cigarettes, gifts, money, drugs an/or affection.

Children and young people can be exploited by adults; but can be exploited by other children/young people too - this is known as Peer on Peer Abuse.

Often when children become exploited they and those around them may not realise it as it happens via a process called ‘grooming’. This is where someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.

Changes in your child’s behaviour can be a normal part of the process of child and adolescent development. However, there are some circumstances where changes in behaviour are an indication that something is wrong. In these situations, you should Trust Your Instinct – if things don’t feel right, they probably are not.

If you think your child is experiencing exploitation do not try to deal with the issue alone. Help and support is available. Find out more on our get help page.