17/01/2012 01:18 GMT

Children At Risk Of 'Horrific' Sexual Exploitation As Cuts Downgrade Issue, Barnardo's Warns

Thousands of children are being put at risk of “horrific” sexual exploitation as budget cuts force the issue down the agenda, Barnardo’s has warned.

The children’s charity says local authorities are failing to implement government advice and awareness of the issue decreased by a third last year, despite the number of victims helped by Barnardo’s going up by 8% in the same period.

The charity’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie warned the issue was “more complex, organised and widespread” than the system was set up to cope with.

“The last year has seen a welcome increase in public and political concern on the issue across the UK. We must not lose momentum. This is particularly important for prevention and protection work at a time when budget choices are only going to get more difficult”, she told Huff Post UK.

But as councils came in for criticism David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's children and young people programme board, said they “take their child protection responsibilities seriously”.

"The LGA is already working with various professional and charitable groups, including Barnardo's, and with local authorities to make sure the excellent work and expertise that exists on preventing exploitation and tracking down perpetrators is shared across the country.

“Raising awareness amongst parents and carers will also aid with prevention and help to bring more prosecutions and get justice for victims."

However Barnardo’s have called on councils around the country the issue commit to tackling child sexual exploitation, saying with fewer than half in England currently pledged to the charity’s campaign against sexual exploitation, cutting them free.

“This crime is becoming ever more complex and pernicious and without local action children will continue to be groomed, raped and abused in towns and cities across the UK,” the charity warned.

In November the government launched a national action plan aimed at preventing child sexual exploitation.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton warned kids were being sexually abused “in far greater numbers than was ever imagined” in a speech launching the coalition's plan to tackle grooming.