No child should be left to cope alone after being exploited

Content warning: themes around child exploitation and trauma. 

Throughout the summer of 2023, we have been warning that children are at greater risk of exploitation during the holidays. 

Being out of school can mean that some children spend more time without adult supervision, for example spending time online or out with friends. This can lead to children being groomed into sexual and criminal exploitation. We were concerned that the cost-of-living crisis could place more children at risk this summer, as organised crime groups could look to use mounting financial pressures and time out of school to exploit children.

20,136 people joined us in calling on the Government to ensure that no child is left without specialist support after being exploited by signing our petition. 30 organisations, MPs and members of the House of Lords signed our open letter outlining our call for change.

Barnardo's CEO Lynn Perry stands outside the Ministry of Justice holding a petition.
Barnardo's CEO Lynn Perry hands our open letter and petition into the Ministry of Justice.

On 13th September we handed our open letter to the Ministry of Justice and we’ve requested a meeting with the Justice Minister responsible for the Victims and Prisoners Bill to discuss this matter further. Read Jessica Edwards, Barnardo’s Senior Policy Advisor for childhood harms, discuss why the Victims and Prisoners Bill is important for children.

What we will do next

While the summer has ended, we know that child exploitation has not. Our work to help children at risk of, and experiencing exploitation, continues all year round. For example, our frontline staff deliver therapeutic support for children and their families to help them recover from trauma and prevent further harm. We also train professionals like social workers and teachers to spot the signs of exploitation and take action to help children get the help they need. 

We’re also continuing to push for change with decision-makers across the UK. This includes:

  • influencing The Victims and Prisoners Bill so that it can affect positive change for exploited and abused children in England and Wales
  • calling for a National Working Group and an updated National Action Plan to tackle child exploitation in Scotland
  • calling for a distinct Child Sexual Abuse strategy in Northern Ireland  

Three things we discovered in our latest research on child exploitation

Find out what Barnardo’s latest research has uncovered about how the school holidays and cost-of-living crisis may affect the number of children who are at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation. 

Jess Edwards, Senior Policy Adviser – Childhood Harms at Barnardo's who wrote our report, Invisible children, has written a blog about what the research uncovered.

Read Jess' blog, Three things we discovered in our latest research on child exploitation

How we're helping children who have experienced sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation

A teenage boy who experienced CCE looks into the camera, with headphones resting on his neck.
[Barnardo's] give you the resources, help and everything you need to go off and make something of yourself.


Young person supported by Barnardo's after experiencing child criminal exploitation

Learn about children we've supported

How we helped Preston after being criminally exploited

After being exploited by criminals, Preston is looking forward to a bright future with support from Barnardo's.

Support after sexual exploitation: How we helped Lisa

After 10-year-old Lisa was coerced into sharing indecent images of herself with strangers online, one of our services supported her and her family. 

How we supported Savannah after being sexually exploited

Savannah was supported by Barnardo’s to access the help she needed after she had been exploited at age 15 by a man who initially pretended to be a boy her own age.

How one of our child sexual exploitation services helped Clary

Clary was supported by Barnardo’s, and given a safe space to use her voice, after being groomed and exploited as a child.

Learn how we work with children and young people who experience, or at risk of, criminal or sexual exploitation

Katie from the TIGER service smiles at the camera

How Katie helps children understand and recover from trauma

We spoke to Katie, a practitioner at our TIGER Service, who reflects on what a typical day looks like for her. TIGER stands for Trauma Informed Growth and Empowered Recovery, and through one-to-one sessions and group sessions, practitioners like Katie provide children and young people with the support they need to understand their experiences and express themselves, and give them the tools they need to recover.

Paul sots on a sofa

How Paul encourages young people’s creative ambitions

The Ambitions Initiative is one of our specialist support services in Bristol which focuses on promoting creative opportunities for children and young people at risk of harm from peer-on-peer violence or criminal exploitation. We spoke with Ambitions Development Worker Paul Matthews to discuss how the service is helping provide young people with an alternative path. 

Learn more about child sexual exploitation (CSE) and child criminal exploitation (CCE)

Criminal exploitation of children

We help children who have been criminally exploited or are at risk of being exploited. Learn more about the criminal exploitation of children, or child criminal exploitation (CCE) as it’s known, from our experts who work in this area.

Child sexual abuse and exploitation

We support thousands of children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse. We also provide support to their families, and to people working with children, such as social workers and teachers, through consultation and training. Learn more about child sexual abuse (CSA) and child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Keeping children safe online

Children and young people are online more than ever before and they deserve to feel safe when they are. Find out more about online safety from our experts. 

Thank you for believing in children

Excluding retail costs, for every pound we spend approximately 94p goes on working with the children and young people who need it most. For more information see our annual report.