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Shattered lives, stolen futures: The Jay Review of Criminally Exploited Children

Source: Action for Children published on this website Monday 25 March 2024 by Jill Powell

Tens of thousands of children and young people are at risk of being exploited across the UK – groomed, coerced and threatened into a life of violence, criminalisation and abuse the review tells us. The review’s conclusion in that a new approach is needed to end this crisis.

In response to this crisis, Action for Children launched the Jay Review of Criminally Exploited Children in November 2023. The aim was to learn from what’s working well to protect children from exploitation and determine what more can be done.

The Review was chaired by Professor Alexis Jay CBE, chair of the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection and former chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Professor Jay was supported by Simon Bailey CBE QPM, the former Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary, and a member of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel from 2021-2024, and Charles Geekie KC, a barrister specialising in areas of the law relating to children and a Trustee of Action for Children.

Key lessons

They Review team listened to those with lived experience, to professionals and to experts from across the four nations of the UK, a number of key lessons stood out:

  • The absence of a clear and consistent definition of the criminal exploitation of children is a barrier to protecting and supporting them.
  • Existing legislation and criminal processes are not fit for purpose and are leading to vulnerable children being failed.
  • Too many exploited children are treated as criminals rather than victims and do not receive a child protection response.
  • The lack of data on exploitation makes it more difficult to identify, prevent and respond to it.
  • School is an essential protective factor in children’s lives, but education providers do not always have the right tools to identify and support children at risk.
  • Local safeguarding arrangements are not always effective in supporting children at risk of extra-familial harm (or harm outside their family home), including exploitation.
  • Early intervention is essential to prevent and disrupt exploitation but a decade of funding cuts in early intervention services has restricted the ability of services to respond.
  • Serious, preventable harm to children is being caused by a lack of national leadership. There is no consistent strategy, leadership and focus from central government on tackling criminal exploitation as an urgent and preventable crisis.