Terrorist Online Grooming: Record Number of Vulnerable Kids at Risk This Summer


A record number of kids are at risk of terrorist online grooming this summer, as the cost of living crisis and lack of support services will leave many families unable to afford childcare. This is sparking fears that more kids will be exposed to exploitation during the six-week break.

The Concerns Over Vulnerable Children

Barnardo’s, the UK’s largest children’s charity, has expressed concerns over young people being left increasingly vulnerable to criminal gangs during the summer holidays. Data from police forces across the country shows that during longer school holidays, there are dips in the number of child sexual exploitation cases reported, thus a rise in ‘invisible’ kids.

The Risks Faced by Children

“Summer holidays should be about fun and relaxation, but we are deeply concerned that a growing number of children could be at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation both online and in the community,” says Barnardo’s CEO, Lynn Perry MBE. “With many children spending several hours a day without adult supervision, and without activities like youth clubs, there’s a greater risk of harm and a higher likelihood they will go unidentified and unsupported.”

Lack of Safe Spaces and Support Services

Since 2010, 760 youth centres have closed and free or affordable activities are now increasingly rare, meaning there are fewer safe spaces for youngsters to spend their time. Further records also show a concerning lack of nationwide specialist support services for victims, such as therapy and counselling, which is absolutely vital to help them recover.

The Need for Specialist Support Services

“The Government must invest in nationwide specialist support services, such as therapy and counselling, for all children who are victims of exploitation to help them to recover, ” emphasises Lynn Perry. “We also need more investment in services, like youth clubs, that provide safe spaces and help ensure all children have a trusted adult they can turn to in the school holidays.”

Recognising the Signs of Exploitation

Kids often do not recognise when they are being manipulated, and the simple offer of gifts, food, or drink at a time of need can quickly be leveraged by criminals, warns Jess Edwards, the charity’s senior policy advisor for childhood harms. Parents and carers should look out for signs of exploitation, such as unexplained injuries, emotional and behavioural changes, or new, inexplicable and wealthy gifts.

The Life-Changing Support Provided by Barnardo’s

To stress how vital and life-changing specialist support can be, three young children have shared their experiences of overcoming exploitation with the help of Barnardo’s. Savannah* was sexually exploited when she was 14 and is currently being supported by Barnardo’s. She emphasises how crucial it is to have support during such difficult times.

“I had been let down my whole life – broken promise after broken promise from my dad. It makes you desperate for love and affection, particularly from someone older. Exploiters know that, and they make you feel like you’re the only person who matters to them,” says Savannah.

Turning Lives Around with Help from Barnardo’s

Preston*, 19, has been able to turn his life around with help from Barnardo’s, despite the odds that were stacked against him. “When I was born, I grew up in a trap house which is basically a home where drug dealing takes place,” he explains. “Trap is exactly the right word for it because that’s the reality, you’re trapped into a never-ending cycle.”

The Importance of Specialist Online Grooming Support

Lisa* shares her experience of being online groomed at a young age and how Barnardo’s support helped her overcome the trauma. “I was embarrassed and felt very guilty about the conversations I had been in. And I felt trapped and was scared I would get in trouble,” Lisa recalls. A Barnardo’s support worker was able to meet with Lisa weekly to relieve her anxiety around being online and becoming a victim of abuse again, and help her mother accept what had happened.


Terrorist online grooming is a significant risk for vulnerable children, particularly during the summer holidays. With a lack of safe spaces and specialist support services, it is crucial that the government invests in nationwide support to help victims recover and prevent further exploitation. Barnardo’s continues to provide life-changing support to children who have experienced exploitation and plays a vital role in protecting and empowering young people.

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