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Increase in referrals to children’s services about trafficking and gangs

There has been an increase in the number of children referred to children’s services due to concerns about trafficking and gangs, The Children’s Society has warned.

Despite successive governments promising to take a strong stand against the exploitation of children, recent figures suggest the fight is far from over, the children’s charity warns.

"The number of young people arrested for drugs or weapons has increased, social services are taking on more children because of gangs and police operations are ramping up against exploitation. These latest stats show how important it is for us to step up the fight to end child exploitation,” said the report.

The figures show that in 2019/20 there were almost 7,000 children arrested for drug offences with a further 2,063 charged with weapon offences. Concerningly, of the 9,063 arrests, 15% were first time offenders and mostly aged 10 to 14-years-old.

For many of these children it is the beginning of a long journey through the criminal justice system as around 40% of them reoffend.

In 2020:

  • There was a 21% increase in children referred to social services due to concerns about trafficking.
  • There was a 34% increase in children referred to social services due to concerns about gangs.

Criminals are using the internet more and more as a way to groom young people. They may use social networks, online games or live streaming sites to develop a relationship. Older gang members are grooming younger boys and giving them errands via social media. They start off small and build up, with the tasks getting more difficult or risky.

“County lines and child exploitation must stop. We work hard to end this type of abuse and give those who have been exploited a chance for a better future,” said the report.

The charity is urging people to be aware of the signs of exploitation in a bid to raise awareness and prevent the numbers from rising.

Signs of child exploitation include:

  • Travelling alone, particularly in school hours, late at night or frequently
  • Looking lost or in unfamiliar surroundings
  • Anxious, frightened, angry or displaying other behaviours that make you worried about them
  • In possession of more than one phone
  • Carrying lots of cash
  • Potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Being instructed or controlled by another individual
  • Accompanied by individuals who are older than them
  • Seen begging in a public space

To find out more information about child exploitation, county line gangs and the Children’s Society’s work in this area, visit their website .

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