Children’s charity Barnardo’s warns a record number of children are “at great risk” of sexual and criminal exploitation this summer. The cost of living crisis has left families unable to afford activities over the school break, and many children are left with no adult supervision online or in the community.
A poll by the charity revealed that six out 10 parents struggle to afford time off work, family outings, or clubs for their children to enrol in during the summer break. As the crisis pushed families towards poverty, children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to criminal gangs. A new survey shows that one in ten parents and children aged 11 – 17 are concerned about criminal gangs in their area over the summer, expressing concerns over the lack of safe spaces they can go to in their neighbourhood.
13% of surveyed children are already in communication with people they met online but do not know in person, and 8% said they will meet up in person with people they met online this summer. ‘Under these difficult circumstances, the risk of exploitation will increase,’ Barnardo’s warns.
The charity also warns that the easiest way for children and young people ‘to get extra money [for] food, hot water, put the electric on, is doing drug gealing.’ One child was pushed into growing up in a “trap house” – where drug dealers operate – due to lack of trusted parental or adult supervision. “Trap is exactly the right for it because that’s the reality – you’re trapped into a never-ending cycle,” he said.
Jess Edwards, Barnardo’s senior policy advisor for childhood harms, stated that ‘a seemingly simple offer of gifts, food or drink at a time of need can quickly be leveraged by criminals into a cycle of debt or exploitation.’
Families are urged to look out for injuries, emotional and behavioural changes in children, and money or expensive items that are unaccounted for. The charity urges the government to intervene and invest in services to safeguard children with specialist support. Cuts to youth services has made affordable activities increasingly rare. 760 youth centres closed over the last 13 years, and expenditure on services fell by more than 70%. In 2020-2021, seven councils admitted that no money had been allocated towards youth services from their budgets. One young person in the survey believes that “they just want the kids to be on the street now”.