“The heady days of summer should be a wonderful time for our children and young people to take a much-needed break from school and enjoy time with family and friends. However, with more time on their hands – it is also a time when they are even more vulnerable to grooming and exploitation – both online and in person.

As parents and grandparents, we are used to asking young people where they are going, who they are meeting and what they will be doing? The sad reality is that the same questions need to be asked about who young people are talking to
online and what they are doing. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) reports that pandemic saw a truly disturbing 374% increase in the levels of self-generated material. This is where children have been groomed or coerced into abusing themselves on camera, often in their own homes, by internet predators.

Furthermore, a new report from The Police Foundation warns that online grooming and exploitation is at an industrial scale. More than 6,000 offences of online grooming, exploitation and abuse reported to the police in 2020/21 which is an increase of 400% compared with just four years earlier. Therefore, the shocking truth is that children are being groomed and abused even as parents think they are safe at home. Indeed any device with a camera that can access the internet is like an open window through which a predator can climb.

Online grooming in itself is a serious threat to the safety and wellbeing of children and young people but there is also the further danger that perpetrators will convert this into threatening and coercing their victims into meeting up in person.

My appeal to parents and carers this summer is therefore to be just as vigilant about young people’s safety when they are on their smartphones, laptops or gaming devices as they would if they were heading out into town or the park. I appreciate that such conversations are uncomfortable but they are vital to reduce the dangers and vulnerability to grooming and exploitation.

Our website has some important information about staying safe online and in person – www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk