Man who worked in the mainstream residential care system for 20 years, says the lack research is "of grave concern.”iStock

There is a great deficit in research into sexual exploitation of vulnerable young people in the Republic’s state care system, a new book claims.

Maurice Fenton, who worked in the mainstream residential care system over two decades, says the lack of detailed research is a “matter of grave concern.”

His claims are contained in a book to be published within days, Social Care and Child Welfare in Ireland: Integrating Residential Care, Leaving Care and Aftercare.

Fenton says he saw first-hand young people exposed to the sex trade while still in state care.

He said there was a dearth of research into the issue in Ireland, despite studies in the U.K. and Northern Ireland that indicate up to 60 percent of sex workers have been in care.

“I have seen the reality of how vulnerable young people in residential child care are to sexual exploitation and prostitution. It was something which I saw when I started working in the sector in the 1990s. If anything it’s become an even bigger issue in more recent years,” Fenton said.

In a preview of the book, The Irish Times reports that a 2011 study on child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland found that children in residential care were more vulnerable to exploitation than those in other care settings.

This study found that, of the sample of 1,102 cases, sexual exploitation was identified as a cause of concern for almost two-thirds of young females.

“It would be naive and dangerous to assume we don’t have the same problem in the Republic,” Fenton said.

The most recent detailed research in the Republic by Focus Ireland, in 2000, identified prostitution as a difficulty for up to 14 percent of care leavers.