A strong message is going out to parents in the run-up to Christmas highlighting the dangers of children being groomed online.

Many youngsters will be looking forward to receiving mobile phones, laptops and tablet devices this year, and Nottingham City Council is taking the opportunity to reinforce the message of internet safety.

As part of the appeal, parents of secondary-age children are being encouraged to complete a free online learning course, while letters will be sent out through schools in the New Year.

Major local retailers have already been written to asking them to signpost customers buying internet-enabled devices to the Think U Know website, which offers guidance on staying safe online.

The authority is teaming up with the Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Board to point out that while the number of youngsters at risk in Nottingham is small, there are dangers which come from access to the internet and social media.

The online learning course has been created by national charity Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation and the letters will encourage people to register and take part. The material is brief, easy-to-navigate and not graphic in any way. It aims to point out warning signs that a child might be at risk.

Councillor David Mellen, Portfolio Holder for Early Intervention and Early Years at Nottingham City Council, said: “We want everyone to enjoy Christmas again this year and I’m sure that a number of youngsters will be hoping for the latest gadgets.

“We live in an internet age and know that these devices will provide them with easy online access, which can be a great tool for learning. However, we also want to make parents aware of the risks that their children may encounter, either face-to-face or through social media and the internet.

“The online safety course is quick to complete and points out potential warning signs of child sexual exploitation, with advice on what to do and who to contact if parents are concerned.

“We know that there are very few youngsters in Nottingham who are at risk from this kind of targeted activity, but this is about empowering parents and keeping our children safe. We need to prevent potential problems before they occur and this is a way to achieve that.”

Sexual exploitation of children and young people under the age of 18 involves situations and relationships where the youngster, or a third party, receives something in return for them being involved in sexual activities. This can be:

• Food
• Accommodation
• Drugs
• Alcohol
• Cigarettes
• Affection
• Gifts/money

It can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example being persuaded to post images on the internet or a mobile phone. As well as being carried out by individuals, sexual exploitation can often be highly organised and can be across groups of dangerous adults.

Chris Cook, Chair of the Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Board, said: “It’s important that people are aware that sexual exploitation can any affect any child, in any place, at any time. Children from all social and economic backgrounds can be affected however the ones most at risk are often those frequently missing from school, home or care; those from vulnerable households; those who have been separated or trafficked; unaccompanied or seeking asylum; or living in residential care.

“A common feature of sexual exploitation is that the child does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship whether it is one to one or within a gang and may not see themselves as a victim. I would urge anyone who is concerned that a child is being sexually exploited to contact the council or police immediately.”

The online learning course for parents can be found at www.paceuk.info/the-problem/keep-them-safe, while the Think U Know website is www.thinkuknow.co.uk

Anyone concerned that their child is at risk of being sexually exploited should contact Children and Families Direct on 0115 876 4800 or, in an emergency, the police.