How The Boys’ Brigade is joining the fight against child exploitation
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How The Boys’ Brigade is joining the fight against child exploitation

Autumn 2022
Child exploitation can happen to any child, of any age, gender, race or social background. As well as the immediate dangers they face, survivors can experience trauma which can harm their mental health and emotional wellbeing long into adulthood. It is absolutely crucial that risks facing children are identified at the earliest possible opportunity so they can be offered the help they need. We welcome The Boys’ Brigade’s commitment to working with us in that important mission.

Children may be exploited sexually or to commit crime – sometimes at the same time. Exploitation takes place where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it also occurs through the use of technology, such as social media. 

Exploiters groom young people, making them believe they are protected and cared for, perhaps buying them expensive gifts, before asking them to do tasks in return, using coercion and often terrifying threats where necessary to ensure their compliance. Often, we find young people do not realise they have been exploited, believing their exploiter to be their friend or that they are ‘helping out’ their exploiter. Others realise only once they feel trapped, afraid and facing threats of violence against themselves or their loved ones. It is so important that we do more to prevent other children from falling victim to those who seek to exploit them.

The Children’s Society

The Children’s Society’s Disrupting Exploitation Programme (DEx) works with young people and parents/carers who are victims of child criminal exploitation. Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, DEx has been working across Greater Manchester, Birmingham and London since 2018. We offer one-to-one support to children who are at risk of or experiencing exploitation. 

Our project workers offer tailored support to each young person to identify risks they are experiencing and support them to manage these. They may also advocate for the child and provide advice to other agencies working with them. The programme also has workers who support parents/carers, and also carries out targeted group activities to support communities to understand more about protecting children and the risks of exploitation.

These risks can be perpetuated by policies, processes, attitudes and beliefs within services and organisations which come into contact with children, all of which can impact on young people’s lives and their ability to access support. We therefore work with agencies ranging from police and social care, to businesses and community groups.

Signs of child exploitation

Ask yourself, is a young person:

  • Travelling alone, particularly in school hours, late at night or frequently?
  • Looking lost or in unfamiliar surroundings?
  • Anxious, frightened, angry or displaying other behaviours that make you worried about them?
  • In possession of more than one phone?
  • Carrying lots of cash?
  • Potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
  • Being instructed or controlled by another individual?
  • Accompanied by individuals who are older than them?
  • Seen begging in a public space?

The Children’s Society’s DEx team has partnered with The Boys’ Brigade as we believe that leaders across the organisation are in a strong position to disrupt exploitation wherever it occurs. Leaders across the country build solid relationships with the children and young people who attend their companies, getting to know them, their families, and circumstances well. This can extend to creating safe spaces for children and young people to tell leaders that something isn’t right or about abuse or exploitation they are suffering. In practice, this means that leaders are better able to spot the signs of exploitation than members of the public.

The first part of our partnership has been to work jointly to create a bespoke Activity Card that will be sent out for the Spring 2023 term and is aimed at the Company and Seniors age groups. The aim is that with more understanding, children may be able to better understand their circumstances and the choices they have before them, as well help them to raise the alarm if they are worried that they or one of their friends are being exploited. Often, it is our young people who are better placed to understand the lives of their friends, so they too can protect them by raising concerns with trusted adults. We also hope that this resource will equip the leaders delivering these activities too, so they are able to help keep the children and young people in their Company safe. The other part of our partnership with The Boys’ Brigade is the creation of training resources that can be delivered to leaders as part of the organisation’s regular Safeguarding training. 

Webinar Opportunity

Join us for a webinar on Tuesday 17th January at 7pm to support you in using the programme resources. It will provide more context to the issue as well as tips for how to use them confidently and safely in your Company.

Find out more and register to attend at:

Finally, we would like to draw your attention to Look Closer, The Children’s Society’s ongoing campaign to raise public awareness about exploitation. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect children and exploitation occurs all around us in public spaces frequented by young people. Look Closer aims to help the public, businesses and other organisations spot the signs of child exploitation and report any concerns to the police – either on 101 or 999 in an emergency. 

Frederick Fowler and Julie Goreham

The Children’s Society

You can find out more, including the signs to look out for and advice for those working in different sectors at: