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Speaking to children about exploitation

Finding out your child is being criminally or sexually exploited can be shocking and upsetting. It is not easy to know how to approach it. Young people often trust their abuser and might not even be aware they are being exploited. Other times they won’t talk out of fear. Jane, one of our project workers, sheds some light on how to help young people open up on this difficult subject. 


Looking through the eyes of a parent

man in hoodie talks to young boy in hoodie and baseball cap in the park

A parent's perspective

A young person’s behaviour can change dramatically when they are being groomed or exploited. Every child is different, but there are some common signs of exploitation

When people talk about child exploitation, they tend to focus on the young people or the perpetrators. It’s easy to forget what it is like for parents.

Although a lot of Jane's work is with children, she also speaks with the family. By building a healthy home life, young people are more likely to open up about what they are going through. 

Parent support groups

‘Many parents will have read something about child exploitation. They don't come to us not knowing anything. Sometimes it is positive. Other times it is totally negative and that can be unhelpful.’ 

‘Most take on the blame themselves and away from the perpetrator. It's very similar in that aspect to the young people.’ 

We’ve started running parent support groups. That seems to be helping a lot.

Teenage boy at the park wearing a beanie and jacket

Hope is always there Hope is always there

As a teenager Matthew was groomed. He became lost in a world of drugs and crime. But he broke free and got the help he needed. Now he has his whole life ahead of him.

Learning the language 

Knowing how to start a conversation about exploitation can be the hardest part for any adult or parent. Most of the time rushing into things isn’t the solution. The choice of words we use when speaking to young people could be the difference between them opening up or shutting us out.

Jane explains ‘every child is different but there are some things we can advise you don’t say. When speaking to a young person, using the words child sexual exploitation can be really stigmatising.'

Approaching it slowly

You need to take small steps. Don’t try to jump in and fix everything straight away.

‘Being gentle in your approach is key. Try to let the child know it’s not their fault. This gives them some control back.’ 

Young boy in doors smiles while facing forward

Making sure there is trust

Girl leans over balcony side smiling with phone in her hand

Building trust

As the conversation evolves, tougher questions may arise. Jane emphasises how important it is to make sure both sides are comfortable with where things are going.

‘To give an example of how I work to help parents. When I get to the dark bits with a young person, I've already built up a really good relationship. This helps me spot their body language and whether they feel comfortable. The same can be said for parent too. We want everyone to feel confident enough to say when things are getting too much.’ 

'It is all about making sure you’ve created a confidential, safe space. Be mindful of what they're going through.’ 

Breaking free of exploitation 

Speaking to young people about exploitation can be daunting. But it is important they know someone is there for them. Sometimes, project workers like Jane are the only people they can turn to.

At Christmas, when many young people’s support systems disappear, our project worker is just a phone call or message away. We help young people find belief and confidence, and find their way out of danger. With your support, our project workers can help young people break free once and for all.   

Author: Edward Herbert

young woman looking to camera strong


Donate today to help our project workers reach a young person who is being exploited.

Together we can help them break free from their abusers and begin to recover.