A survey of 224 of Banardos service managers representing more than 370 services found that 58.6 per cent had supported a young person involved in crime in the past year. Of those, nearly three quarters (72.3 per cent) thought the young person had been coerced, controlled, deceived or manipulated by others into criminal activity.
Meanwhile, 63.4 per cent per cent of the total said that in their experience children who were criminally exploited were also the victims of sexual abuse. And 79.6 per cent thought that technology played an important role in enabling criminal exploitation. More than a third of managers said that in their experience criminal exploitation was increasing (just one per cent said it was decreasing).
It is the first time Barnardo's has surveyed service managers on emerging threats like criminal and sexual exploitation.
It said circumstances of exploitation can include young people being forced to carry weapons, forced to carry and sell drugs, or be subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse.
To tackle the issue, Barnardo's is calling for agencies, such as the police, education, health and social care, to work together on a joint approach that recognises the long-term nature of the abuse, exploitation and trauma these children experience and also that they are often coerced into criminal activity.
Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan, said: "We know that all children in every community are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation and with new technologies they are vulnerable to being groomed online from their bedrooms.
"The evidence from our services supports growing concerns about a rise in child criminal exploitation, often linked to gangs, drugs, serious violence and sexual abuse.
"We must have a multi-agency approach which recognises the interconnected nature of the threats facing children. Children forced into criminal activity must not be criminalised but treated as victims and given support which prioritises their safety, recovery and future outcomes."