Leading children’s charity Barnardo’s believes the tell-tale signs of children being groomed are being overlooked. In a poll of 1,100 parents they found just two in five believed children were being sexually exploited where they lived, despite reports of child abuse coming from across the UK. Children as young as nine are being sexually exploited by gangs, who are becoming more and more organised with the use of technology.

The charity urges parents, professionals (such as teachers, doctors, social services, health workers and the police) and young people to be aware of, and have confidence in spotting, the signs that a child is being groomed. These can include children going missing for long periods of time, skipping school, regularly returning home late, appearing with unexpected gifts, associating with older teenagers or adults, inappropriate sexual behaviour, abuse of drugs or alcohol or secretive use of mobile phones and the internet.

The poll also found less than half of parents were able to spot the more subtle signs of children being exploited, such as regularly returning home late. One in four fathers said they did not feel confident that they would spot whether the relationships their child has were dangerous, compared with one in six mothers.

Barnardo’s has worked with more than 1,000 children who have been groomed, abused and trafficked for money, and the problem is growing with this number believed to be the tip of the iceberg. The charity has 22 teams across the UK and all but one of them has come across organised child trafficking.

The charity believes that those who work with children need to be better equipped to spot those at greatest risk, such as the recent case of Daniel Pelka, the four year old boy whose many signs of abuse were missed.

They want to see specialist training for professionals to help them recognise the early indications that a child is being groomed and exploited as the earlier the abuse is identified, the earlier it can be stopped. They also want better information-sharing between social services, teachers, police and health workers to help protect children at risk.

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