Exploited looked after children going missing at an alarmingly high rate

Our new study with the charity ECPAT UK reveals that looked after children (children in local authority care) who are victims of criminal or sexual exploitation are going missing at an alarmingly high rate. 

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Key Findings 

  • Local authorities identified over 3,000 looked after children as exploited.
  • 48% of these exploited children went missing from care.
  • Each of those children went missing an average of 10 times.

The rate of exploited looked after children going missing is much higher than that of non-exploited looked after children. This is highlighted in 2020-21, when 10% of non-exploited children in care were reported missing. Contrastingly, 50% of children in care who had experienced exploitation were reported missing.

Why are the figures of exploited looked after children so high? 

This study reveals that exploited looked after children are one of the groups at the highest risk of going missing. In addition, we know that there are strong links between exploitation, both criminal and sexual, and going missing. This is because going missing is both a key indicator of exploitation and a common consequence of exploitation: 

  • Young people experiencing exploitation are a at high risk of running away or gangs and groomers luring them from safety. These dangers often occur as they are trying to escape the consequences of exploitation.
  • Equally, experiences of exploitation or gangs are a high risk to non-exploited missing children. In July 2017 – March 2018, 1 in 7 children who completed a Return Home Interview with Missing People revealed that they had experienced sexual exploitation. Learn more here.

Are you worried that a young person in your care is being exploited?  

Children deserve to feel safe in their environment and have access to the support they need. Therefore, these shocking new figures highlight just how needed our Is This OK?, and SafeCall services for young people experiencing exploitation are.  

Our services are free, confidential, and non-judgemental. Find out more about the Is This OK? service for young people, and SafeCall for parents and carers.

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