CUMBRIA Police have warned of the signs to look out for, which may indicate that a child is being exploited, as part of a new campaign launched this month.

‘Its Not Ok', set up by Cumbria Children’s Safeguarding Partnership and the NSPCC to tackle child exploitation in Cumbria, will initially be focusing on ‘Child Criminal Exploitation’.

Child Criminal Exploitation is a form of child abuse that can happen to any young person regardless of their background or where they live. It happens when an individual or group of people manipulate and coerce a young person into criminal activity, in exchange for things like gifts or money.

Although criminal exploitation can happen to any child, there are certain risk factors that can make a young person more vulnerable to this type of abuse, such as homelessness, low self-esteem, being a young carer, being in care, substance misuse, having a history of abuse at home, or having links to gangs.

There are signs that parents and carers can look out for, including:

• Going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late

• skipping school or being disruptive in class

• Receiving unexplained gifts or possessions that can’t be accounted for

• Being secretive about where they are going or who they are with

• having mood swings and changes in temperament

• using drugs and/or alcohol

Holly Murphy, CSCP said:“Child Criminal Exploitation can have devastating consequences for young victims that can affect them for the rest of their lives. This is why it is important for us to get the message out there that victims of exploitation can come from any background and from any area of the country, including Cumbria.

“Tackling Child Criminal Exploitation is everyone’s responsibility and it’s important that parents and professionals in our area are able to recognise the signs of exploitation and how they can report any concerns they have about a child.

“This is the reason why our ‘It’s Not Ok’ campaign was set up, to spread awareness as far and wide as possible, as we need the public’s help to prevent children from being subjected to this type of abuse.”

Carla Malseed, Local campaigns Manager for the NSPCC said: “Children recruited by criminal gangs are forced into extremely dangerous situations and face the risk of serious violence. That’s why we must be clear that young people who are criminally exploited in this way are victims of child trafficking and need access to professional support to keep them safe and rebuild their lives.

“We hope the “It’s Not OK” campaign will send out a clear message to children and young people across Cumbria that it is never their fault and that, as adults, we all have a responsibility to report any concerns for a child.”

The NSPCC Helpline is available for adults to seek advice on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

Young people can contact Childline on 0808 800 5000 or via www.childline.org.uk

Further information on the ‘It’s Not Ok’ campaign can be found here: https://www.cumbriasafeguardingchildren.co.uk/LSCB/itsnotok.asp