76,000 children are reported missing every year in the UK, yet many more missing episodes go unreported, meaning children at risk of exploitation are falling through the net. Catch22 runs Child Exploitation and Missing services across England; missing from home incidents, child sexual and criminal exploitation, and County Lines are too often seen as separate – when in fact they are closely linked.
Catch22 is calling for a National Child Exploitation Strategy that would bring together the different forms of exploitation, specifically addressing child criminal exploitation and County Lines, and including Missing. Professionals, agencies and the public often underestimate the risks to a child when they go missing – and therefore fail to make early interventions.
Kate Wareham, Catch22’s Director of Young People and Families, said:
“It is not enough to just find a child and be relieved they are home. If repeat missing incidences are happening, even if just for a few hours, we need to be asking ourselves where these young people are. Going missing from home or care is a key indicator of county lines-related child exploitation, but opportunities to intervene are often unrecognised and missed.
“Too often, those in a position of care, including statutory bodies, missed the signs; by the time services like ours are involved, grooming has occurred over a sustained period and the young person may be deeply involved in criminal activity.”
Recognising the recently published Child Sexual Abuse strategy, this International Missing Children’s Day, Catch22 is calling for a national approach to child exploitation, recognising the crossover between victims of child criminal exploitation (CCE), child sexual exploitation (CSE) and those going missing. It also wants to see updated statutory guidance for all professionals. The strategy should:
- incorporate other UK national strategies, including child sexual abuse, modern day slavery, and domestic abuse,
- provide a legal definition of child criminal exploitation,
- recognise the links between child criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation, missing children, and county lines, and
- make provision for regular, up-to-date child criminal exploitation training and awareness raising for practitioners and parents and carers.
Whilst policies do exist, many are not up to date. For example, updates to Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home or Care 2014 have been repeatedly delayed.
Statistics show that:
- 1 in 7 of the children who completed return home interviews had been sexually exploited.
- 1 in 5 children who completed return home interviews disclosed information about mental health issues.
- 1 in 10 children who completed return home interviews had been a victim of criminal exploitation.
Kate Wareham added:
“County lines, child criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation, and children missing from home are too often talked about as separate issues. These tags are all symptoms, not causes, and we know from our experience that they are all inextricably linked.
“The focus should be on the vulnerability of young children, building awareness of risks, prioritising resilience, and doing everything we can to safely get a young child out of such dangerous situations.”