Shattered Lives, Stolen Futures: The Jay Review on Child Criminal Exploitation

Sam Preston 6 June 2024 2 min read
Shattered Lives, Stolen Futures: The Jay Review on Child Criminal Exploitation  feature image

In response to the escalating crisis of Child Criminal Exploitation, Action for Children initiated the Jay Review in Autumn 2023. The comprehensive report, published on 21 March 2024, found that the current system is fundamentally flawed and unable to protect vulnerable children effectively. The findings demand significant reforms to address the shortcomings and safeguard exploited children.

Review Panel and Hearings

The review was chaired by Professor Alexis Jay CBE, with support from Simon Bailey QPM CBE and Charles Geekie KC.

Over four days in November 2023, the panel gathered evidence from 70 organisations and individuals, including young people and families with direct experience of child criminal exploitation. The panel heard 25 hours of testimony, including in-person and video contributions.

Nature and Scale of Criminal Exploitation

Modes of Exploitation:

The panel examined various forms of exploitation, highlighting the roles of social media and gaming in the manipulation of vulnerable children. Key vulnerable groups identified include those with special educational needs, disabilities, and those growing up in poverty or in the care system. Education providers were noted for their crucial role in early identification and support, though the report found that they often lack the necessary resources and training to fulfil their duty of care.

Data Insights

In 2023, 7,432 children were referred to the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery, marking a 45% increase since 2021. Additionally, 14,420 ‘Child in Need’ assessments recorded criminal exploitation as a risk of harm. Research by Action for Children has found that over 130,000 parents reported their child showed signs of exploitation in the past year. These numbers reflect the extensive reach and devastating impact of child criminal exploitation.

Key Findings of the report

Lack of Definition:

  • There is no agreed legal definition of the criminal exploitation of children, impeding identification, action, and protection efforts.

Legislation and Processes:

  • Current legislation and criminal processes are inadequate, often resulting in a criminal justice response instead of protective measures.
  • he burden on young people to prove they are victims of exploitation is incompatible with child welfare principles.

Data and Justice:

  • The absence of comprehensive national data hinders efforts to effectively address the issue.
  • The system fails to bring exploiters to justice, with few prosecutions under existing laws.

Report recommendations

Legal Framework:

  • Establish a statutory definition of criminal exploitation within UK law.
  • Introduce new powers for police and the criminal justice system to identify and sanction exploiters.
  • Create a specific offence for criminally exploiting children.

Policy and Practice:

  • Develop a UK-wide strategy from central government to prevent child criminal exploitation.
  • Implement a welfare-first approach in managing offences committed by exploited young people.

Investment and Research:

  • Increase and ring-fence funding for early intervention services.
  • Promote whole-system learning through investment and research.


The statistics paint a stark picture: In 2023, there was a significant rise in referrals and assessments related to child criminal exploitation. However it is likely that this is not a true reflection of the numbers exploited. Beyond these figures, countless young lives are affected by criminal exploitation, often with devastating consequences. The review emphasises that exploited children are frequently seen as criminals rather than victims, with black, brown, and racialised children particularly overrepresented in exploitation cases, especially ‘county lines’ operations.

The fight against child criminal exploitation requires a coordinated, multi-agency approach. Despite some progress at local levels, the current system is failing to provide the necessary support and protection for these children. The Jay Review’s recommendations are timely, and presents a critical opportunity for substantial reforms to enhance protections for young people. It is imperative that these recommendations are acted upon to ensure the safety and future of our children.

Sam Preston

SSS Learning Safeguarding Director

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