The NSPCC is calling on the government to speed up the publication of the promised Tackling Child Sexual Abuse strategy.
A spokesman for the child protection charity said it helped more than 200 at-risk children during lockdown but fears that many may not have been able to get help.
The spokesman said Childline saw counselling sessions about sexual abuse and grooming increase by 18% during the lockdown.
But frontline teams, who work in the Protect and Respect service, worry that many more children may have suffered from abuse, without access to their normal avenues of support.
The NSPCC is calling on communities, including schools, parents, and professionals, to work together to spot the signs of abuse, enable children to come forward, and make sure they have access to the right support when they need it.
Safeguarding minister, Victoria Atkins, made a commitment to publish its Tackling Child Sexual Abuse strategy ‘by the end of the year’, so the charity is urging the government to push ahead with finalising a plan for action.
A spokesman for the NSPCC said, since its Protect and Respect service launched in 2012, it has supported over 3,600 young people at risk, with almost half of those referrals coming from schools.
The practitioners help young people aged between 11-19 who have been or are at risk of being forced into sexual activity, both online and offline.
Janet Abbott, NSPCC Protect and Respect practitioner, said: ‘Young people will often not recognise themselves as victims of exploitation, due to the nature of grooming. That is why it’s so important that we empower them to recognise unhealthy relationships and perpetrators’ grooming behaviour.
‘Maintaining regular sessions with young people throughout the pandemic has been a vital lifeline for some of the children and families our practitioners have been working with, ensuring that they are supported and can talk to someone they trust.
‘As COVID-19 continues to impact on our lives, we will continue to adapt how we work on the frontline to help children cope and recover.’
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