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Children at risk of exploitation need better protection, warns Barnardo’s

There should be better co-ordination and information sharing between agencies to protect children at risk of child sexual exploitation, says Barnardo’s.

The children’s charity says GPs, teachers, youth workers and the police are missing tell-tale signs that vulnerable children are being groomed. It is calling for specialist training for professionals working in England to help to them recognise and respond directly to the early signs of child sexual exploitation.

Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey said: “The sexual exploitation of children by adults is a hidden obscenity.” “There is an understandable tendency to believe this happens very rarely. In fact it’s everywhere, in every town and city in the UK and professionals involved with children need to know the tell-tale signs,” he said, adding: “The earlier abuse is identified, the earlier we can stop it.”

The charity warns that children who are disengaged from education are often vulnerable. And drug or alcohol abuse could also leave them vulnerable to exploitation as abusers may use substances to control them.

Professionals should also be suspicious of risky behaviours including secretive use of the internet or mobile phones and unexplained gifts such as mobile phones or jewellery. Inappropriate sexual behaviour or a history of sexually transmitted diseases are also risk factors, the charity warns.

BASW joint England manager Nushra Mansuri said: “We welcome the focus on vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation. It is such an important area which is so often overlooked.

“The problem is the approach is very piecemeal. There are some excellent projects both in-house in local authorities and others run by voluntary organizations that are geared up to addressing these issues but we need a more concerted approach,” she said.

“Child sexual exploitation should not be sidelined and needs to be part of the safeguarding agenda. Local safeguarding children’s boards have a key role to bring all these agencies together,” Ms Mansuri added. “It is often these kind of issues that professionals feel less confident about but we need to deal with them head on,” she concluded. “Anything that brings these issues to the fore is welcome.”