We are all too well aware that household budgets are being squeezed – leaving less money for essentials let alone luxuries. As Derbyshire’s specialist charity working to support and protect young people and families across the county, we are seeing a worrying signs that the cost of living crisis is putting many more young people at increased risk of grooming and exploitation by manipulative individuals and gangs.

It is a proven fact that any child or young person – regardless of their sex, age, culture or family background – is at risk of exploitation. However, our caseload is increasing month on month due, in part to the increasing vulnerabilities of young people being targeted by predators with the lure of money or gifts which they would not otherwise be able to afford.

For example, we started working with two young sisters who had been approached by men online and then had started to go missing. They recently disclosed that they had been given train tickets to a large city with the promise of a shopping trip. We were able to stop this before it happened but we know that these girls would not have ended up with shopping bags full of clothes but were in real danger of being trafficked and raped – that is the harsh reality that we can not ignore.

It is not just girls who are in danger. The 15-year-old son of a single mum we are supporting has been targeted by drug dealers – which we refer to as County Lines. These criminals evidently recognised that money was scarce at home but have turned the boy’s head with the lure of money in his pocket and cannabis on tap for himself so that they can keep him on a tight lead and constantly in their debt.

It is not parents’ fault that they can’t afford to give their children the spending money they would like. However, it is important that families, teachers and, indeed everyone in society, is aware that financial pressures at home can often make a child more vulnerable to grooming and exploitation. We therefore all need to be aware of and vigilant about the warning signs such as young people saying out late, being more withdrawn and secretive and suddenly having unexplained new clothes or phones.

Predators are clever and their sole aim is to find a young person’s vulnerable point, gain their trust and then lure them into a life that they don’t know how to escape. As times get tougher in our society, I would appeal to everyone to open their eyes and act on suspicions rather than burying them away and hoping for the best.

For more information about the warning signs of child exploitation and how to get help, please visit our website www.safeandsoundderby.org.uk