CHILDREN who go missing overnight are being groomed for sex, a charity has warned.

Drugs, alcohol and gifts are among the techniques being used to lure youngsters away from their Kirklees homes.

But many are not even aware they are in serious danger, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s.

Internet chat rooms and social networking sites can make children’s dangerous liaisons come as complete surprises to their parents or carers.

Staff at Barnardo’s in Huddersfield are currently working with 60 children who have gone missing and returned – known as ‘mispers’.

They are among the 229 Kirklees missing incident referrals handed to the charity by police last year.

For some of the young people it will be the first time they have gone missing.

For others, it will have become a regular habit, exposing them to a whole host of dangerous behaviours including drugs, alcohol, crime and even prostitution.

The Barnardo’s team works with the youngsters – aged between 10 and 16 – to keep them safe and well.

A four-strong team in Kirklees works with them once they have returned, to find out how risky their behaviour has become.

Within 10 days of a child coming back, they visit the child and their family or carer to discover where they went, who they were with and what they were exposed to.

They also work closely with police, social services, the NHS and other agencies to improve children’s circumstances.

Manager Jacky O’Brien said: “Out of the 60 young people we are working with, there are three we would deem as being at high risk of sexual exploitation and another 15 we would place at medium risk.

“What happens is that there is a network of young people and they meet friends of friends.

“There are various areas in Kirklees where these young people go – like a flat or a party.

“People at these places are interested in exploiting young people by offering them drugs or alcohol.

“That is how they begin to be groomed for sexual exploitation.

“The problem is that many of them don’t realise they are being groomed or exploited in that way.

“These people are kind to them and buy them gifts, so the young people are just not aware what is happening.

“It can happen to anyone.”

Arguments at home or a dislike of a parent’s new partner are among the main reasons why children go missing.

Jacky added: “My advice to parents would be to keep the lines of communication open.

“Even if the child refuses, you can always write them a letter to say you are concerned.

“I would also warn them to be extra vigilant about internet chat rooms because that is where a lot of the initial contact takes place.

“It is not about saying they can’t have a Facebook page, but thinking carefully about whether they should have a photo or maybe a cartoon character.”

ROSIE – not her real name – was living in a children’s home when she was exposed to a world of sex and drugs.

The youngster was brought up by foster parents from being a baby because her mother was an alcoholic.

By the age of 10, she had already started going missing and her foster parents found it difficult to cope.

At the age of 12 she went to live in a children’s home and stopped going to school regularly.

She became friendly with a group of children who would go missing for days on end.

They didn't know they were being targeted for exploitation.

Rosie said: “There were men who would take us out. They would give us drink and then drugs. They’d get us to do things for them, you know.

“I see now that they used me, but I felt isolated and scared. You just get trapped and there is nothing that you can do.”

The men were all in their 30s and would encourage Rosie and her friends to go missing for just one or two days before returning to the home.

Because the children would regularly go missing, paperwork was completed and the police informed, but no one would really try to find out what was happening.

Rosie added: “I wanted to escape, but I just didn’t know how. Men of this age who want to have sex with young 14-year-old girls are just paedophiles.

“I felt about 90 years old. I was brought into a world of drugs and sex – things I knew nothing about. These men are evil – they just want to hurt children.”

Rosie eventually sought help after seeing a TV programme about a new Barnardo’s service for sexually exploited young people. She called the helpline and next day made contact with the service manager.

Barnardo’s worker Jacqui said: “Rosie turned up at the project with a black eye. She’d been heavily beaten.

“She looked so tiny and her face was drawn. Rosie had seen things and been forced to do things that no child should ever be put through.”

She has since turned her life around and has just passed GCSEs in Maths and English and applied for a college place to continue her studies. She’s moved away from the men who abused her and finally feels safe.

OSCAR-WINNING actress Helen Mirren is backing a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers children face when they go missing.

Dame Helen is launching an appeal to raise £1.3m to fund Barnardo’s work with sexually exploited children and young people around the UK.

The move comes as research shows about 100,000 young people under the age of 16 run away from home or care across the UK each year – one every five minutes.

Although many of these young people will stay with family or friends, others will find themselves in far riskier situations with one in six sleeping rough and one in 12 coming to some harm.

The charity is aiming to highlight the link between sexual exploitation and children who frequently disappear without explanation.

It is also calling on the Government’s Missing Persons Taskforce to set out clear measures in its work with children who go missing and who are at high risk of abuse by pimps.

Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey said: “Those children who repeatedly go missing are in grave danger of falling victim to those who prey upon them for sexual and financial gain.

“For Barnardo’s staff, identifying those children at risk of sexual exploitation is half of the battle, we need to get to these vulnerable children first.

“Our 21 specialist services are also working hard to help these children and young people escape from their exploitation.

“We know that our unshakeable belief in them, gives the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children a real chance to turn their lives around.”

More than half the children on Barnardo’s specialist sexual exploitation projects go missing on a regular basis, a survey by the charity as shown. The study estimated one in six were moved around the UK for sexual exploitation.

Helen Mirren will be launching a new campaign on BBC Radio 4 on April 4.

People can donate cash to the appeal by calling 0800 404 8144 or by visiting barnardos.org.uk/radio4appeal.