Signs of child sexual exploitation 'being missed'

Teenage girl with mobile phone (file pic) Secretive use of mobile phones is among the tell-tale signs

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Teachers, social workers and the police are missing the warning signs of children being targeted for sexual exploitation, a charity has said.

Barnardo's said children who were being groomed often appeared with unexplained gifts or started engaging in risky behaviour.

They also tended to start skipping school or becoming disruptive, it said.

People working with children needed to be made aware of the "tell-tale signs", it added.

These also include secretive use of mobile phones and the internet.

Some children might use drugs or be encouraged to do so by those attempting to control them, it added.

'Horrific risks'

Barnardo's, which is currently working with more than 600 exploited children, is calling for professionals to be specially trained in spotting the tell-tale signs and knowing how to respond to them.

It also wants there to be better co-ordination and information-sharing between the organisations involved in protecting children.

These include social, health and education services, and the police.

Wendy Shepherd, children's services manager at a Barnardo's project, said: "If we can identify these children we can significantly reduce the number of children being exposed to these horrific risks.

"Taken alone, the indicators are not necessarily proof of exploitation, but alarm bells should ring, especially if there are a number of indicators."

Barnardo's chief executive Martin Narey said the sexual exploitation of children was 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."

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