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5.4 Safeguarding Children and Young People at Risk of Sexual Exploitation Policy


This chapter outlines the policy for dealing with children and young people where it is suspected that they may be at risk of, or are suffering abuse through Sexual Exploitation. It should be read in conjunction with the LSCP Joint Protocol for Missing Children and Young People, Working with Sexually Active Young People and Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked.

For additional guidance, see also the government guidance: DfE, Child sexual exploitation: definition and guide for practitioners (2017).


LSCP Joint Protocol for Missing Children and Young People

Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked Procedure

Working with Sexually Active Young People Procedure


LSCP Multi-Agency Guidance: Analysing and responding to risks and vulnerabilities in relation to the sexual exploitation of children and young people


This chapter was reviewed in March 2020 to provide updated links to the Partnership Information Report (Operation Insignia).


  1. Introduction
  2. Key Aims
  3. Definitions
  4. The Impact of Sexual Exploitation on Children
  5. The Legal Framework
  6. Responding to CSE Concerns
  7. Police Role and Responsibilities
  8. Children's Social Care Roles and Responsibilities
  9. Diversion and Exit Strategies
  10. Children Who may have been Trafficked
  11. Further Information

    Appendix 1: Child Sexual Exploitation Guidance and Risk Assessment

1. Introduction

The sexual exploitation of children and young people has been identified throughout the UK, in both rural and urban areas, and in all parts of the world. It affects boys and young men as well as girls and young women. It robs children of their childhood and can have a serious long-term impact on every aspect of their lives, health and education. It damages the lives of families and carers and can lead to family break-ups. The sexual exploitation of children and young people is both a Child Protection issue and a complex crime involving the exercise of power by perpetrators over those who are vulnerable.

Children who are sexually exploited should be treated primarily as victims of abuse and their needs carefully assessed. They are likely to be in need of welfare services and, in many cases, protection under the Children Act 1989. This group may involve children who have been victims of human trafficking or children groomed via the internet.

2. Key Aims

The purpose of this policy is to enable agencies to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people abused or at risk of sexual exploitation and/or Trafficking.

Staff must be able to:

  • Recognise when children and young people are at risk of being exploited and/or trafficked;
  • Recognise that sexual exploitation can happen to boys and young men as well as girls and young women and that females can be involved as perpetrators as well as males;
  • Prevent children and young people from being subject to sexual exploitation through training/awareness raising and early intervention measures;
  • Safeguard Children and Promote their Welfare;
  • Work together to provide children with opportunities and strategies to exit safely from sexual exploitation;
  • Support the investigation and prosecution of those who groom, coerce, exploit and abuse children through sexual exploitation and/or trafficking;
  • Consider at all stages the need for urgent action that may be necessary to secure the child/young person’s safety in line with statutory child protection duties.

3. Definitions

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse. Working Together to Safeguard Children provides the following definition of sexual abuse: Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

The 2009 statutory guidance Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation provides the following description:

"Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive “something” (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities. Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain. In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability."

The LSCP Multi-Agency Guidance: Analysing and responding to risks and vulnerabilities in relation to the sexual exploitation of children and young people provides further information about the key characteristics of child sexual exploitation and what is currently known about its nature and prevalence in Lincolnshire.

4. The Impact of Sexual Exploitation on Children

Children who are sexually exploited may suffer impairment of health and well being in all areas of their development and are also vulnerable to a variety of other forms of abuse, including physical and emotional abuse, intimidation and extortion. Other impacts include:

  • Immediate health risks due to the personal circumstances of individuals, e.g. there may be problems associated with drug or alcohol use, homelessness and lack of attention to their own physical health;
  • Risks of emotional and psychological harm to children and young people through the sexual exploitation they experience. There may also be other harmful symptoms, for example, depression, suicide attempts, self-mutilation, withdrawal and other disorders as a result. Young people who are sexually exploited may run away, be physically injured and their health may deteriorate as a result of sexual activity or misuse of drugs or alcohol. It can put the young person at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), of unplanned pregnancy and abortion, as well as long term sexual and reproductive health problems;
  • Long term risks for children who are sexually exploited, particularly in respect of their education and social development;
  • Children and young people are likely to be victims of and witnesses to sexual exploitation and other crimes, and it is likely that they would be at risk if they report the information they have of their involvement and knowledge;
  • Children and young people who frequently go missing from home or from care are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. (See LSCP Joint Protocol for Missing Children and Young People).

5. The Legal Framework

The legal basis for this policy comes from:

Criminal Offence of Sexual Communication with a Child

As part of the Serious Crime Act (2015) an offence of sexual communication with a child was introduced. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under 16 years of age. The Act also amended the Sex Offences Act 2003 so it is now an offence for an adult to arrange to meet with someone under 16 having communicated with them on just one occasion (previously it was on at least two occasions).

6. Responding to CSE Concerns

In the event of an agency or individual having concerns that a child or young person is at risk of being sexually exploited, the level, nature, and extent of these concerns should be established. This should be done using the LSCP Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Tool. The toolkit explains what action should be taken to address different levels of assessed need.

As a minimum requirement all children and/or young people who are identified as being at a lower risk of sexual exploitation, but have other unmet needs should be assessed using the Early Help Assessment as a minimum requirement (Meeting The Needs).

All agencies and practitioners must be aware that a child under the age of 13 years old and/or any child with significant learning disabilities cannot be considered as Low Risk.

If, as a result of the risk assessment, issues are identified that, in the assessors professional judgement, are increasing the child/young person's vulnerability to sexual exploitation, then the Customer Service Centre (CSC) should be contacted on 01522 782111. The CSC screener will identify whether the threshold for social care intervention has been met. If this is the case, then the normal process of referring to the Area Team will be followed. See Referrals Procedure.

In cases where the threshold for social care is not met, the CSC will forward a copy of the CSE risk assessment to the multi-agency SAFE Team for review. The SAFE Team takes the lead in the identification, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of cases of Child Sexual Exploitation in Lincolnshire and provides support to victims and those at risk from CSE.

If professional judgement identifies the level of risk as HIGH then it is likely that there will be serious or complex needs or Child Protection concerns requiring an immediate referral to Children's Social Care (see Referrals Procedure). Children's Services Social Care must hold a Strategy Discussion whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm whether or not it appears that a criminal offence against a child has been committed.

This may be following a Referral and Social Work Assessment or at any time where a child is receiving support services and if concerns about Significant Harm to the child emerge. If there is any doubt about whether Section 47 applies, agencies should steer on the side of caution and hold a Strategy Discussion meeting.

Information Sharing with Lincolnshire Police

Partnership Information Form (Operation Insignia)

“Information sharing is an essential way in which organisations can bring together knowledge to support vulnerable people and tackle offenders of abuse. The Partnership Information Report (Operation Insignia) in Lincolnshire is a simple and straightforward way in which agencies can submit this information to the Police. While it may not appear significant enough to ring 101 or 999, the information can be extremely valuable, be that about a location a person is at, their lifestyle changes, or associates and contact they have. This information is submitted into the Police intelligence system and can form part of a larger picture of vulnerability and exploitation (both criminal and sexual), County Lines, human trafficking or modern day slavery. Submitting the information can make a real difference.”

Please submit the form by clicking on the following link: LSCP Partnership Information Report.

Basic Principles

The child/young person must be kept at the centre of all work and intervention and it may be necessary to manage what seems like unacceptable risk. The child should be part of the decision making and their views / wishes sought where appropriate.

A young person’s view that intervention is unwelcome and unnecessary should not prevent appropriate interventions to prevent, safeguard, disrupt, and prosecute those people who are committing the abuse/exploitation.

Sexual exploitation incorporates Sexual, Physical and Emotional Abuse, as well as, in some cases, Neglect.

Children and young people involved in sexual exploitation, (including those who are seen as perpetrators), should be treated primarily as the victims of abuse and their needs carefully assessed. Professionals are responsible for ensuring that their actions do not reinforce the sexually exploitative activities.

Children need to be empowered to make realistic choices, and need support and effective provision to protect them from exploitation.

Many sexually exploited children/young people have difficulty distinguishing between their own choices around sex and sexuality and the sexual activities they are involved in. This potential confusion needs to be handled with care and sensitivity. Assumptions should not be made about a child's sexual identity or behaviour, (such as suggesting that a child is 'experimenting' with their sexuality through sexual activities with different partners), which minimises consideration of the child's needs or which leads to an under-estimation of the trauma involved.

The fact that a young person is 16 or 17 years old should not be taken as a sign that they are no longer at risk of sexual exploitation.

Factors contributing to a young person’s vulnerability at aged 16/17 may need to be addressed e.g. accommodation issues and requiring a safe place to stay.

7. Police Role and Responsibilities

The role of the Police is to:

  • Remove the child from immediate risk of suffering Significant Harm;
  • Identify and disrupt child sexual exploitation activities – victims, locations and perpetrators;
  • Investigate, enforce and prosecute those who are involved in sexual exploitation;
  • Initiate and contribute to multi-agency intervention / action;
  • Interview children using Achieving Best Evidence guidance. See also Procedures for Video Recording Interviews with Children.

There are a range of criminal offences which can be used by police and prosecutors. All identified offences should be robustly addressed and evidence should be sought to support the prosecution of these offences.

Child witnesses should be able to give evidence through visually recorded statements and live TV links. Other ‘special measures’ can be considered to enable children to give their ‘best evidence’. See Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.

The primary law enforcement effort must be against offenders. Sexual exploitation of children and young people should not be regarded as criminal behaviour on the part of the child or young person, but as child sexual abuse.

A child under 13 years is not legally capable of consenting to sexual activity (Sexual Offences Act 2003) and cases involving under 13 year olds which include penetrative sex, are classed as rape. (Refer also to LSCP protocol on managing cases of underage sexual activity) (see Working with Sexually Active Young People Procedure, Children under 13 Years).

The Police will liaise with Children's Social Care without delay, either through the Customer Service Centre or EDT. If Section 46 of the Children Act is involved (Police Protection) a Strategy Discussion must be held as soon as possible and a Children Act Section 47 Enquiry initiated as appropriate.

8. Children's Social Care Roles and Responsibilities

The role of the social worker is to:

  • Initiate and contribute to multi-agency intervention / action;
  • Undertake a Social Work Assessment of any child who is referred to Children’s Services within 10 working days;
  • If through completion of this Social Work Assessment child is identified as being a Child in Need, or is at risk of suffering significant harm a Social Work Assessment should be undertaken;
  • In cases where a child is considered to be at significant risk of harm social workers will participate in a multi-agency Strategy Meeting to discuss the situation and if appropriate assess the situation jointly with the police under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. (See Managing Individual Cases where there are Concerns about a Child's Safety and Welfare - Procedures);
  • Assist police from the Public Protection Unit in interviewing children using Achieving Best Evidence guidance.

Where sexual exploitation concerns are raised for any child the information should be shared with the police under the CSE Information Sharing Protocol and a multi-agency Strategy Meeting (see Referrals Procedure, Making a Referral) considered.

9. Diversion and Exit Strategies

Multi-agency strategies should be developed and implemented with the child and family which addresses the child’s needs and also helps them move from the exploitative situation.

Information from research indicates key areas of service, which can assist with effective diversion from exploitation:

  • Help with drug use;
  • Education and employment opportunities;
  • Emotional support;
  • Refuge provision.

An exit strategy should be developed with the child and family, addressing the individual needs of the child and to include:

  • Mentoring to assist return to education or employment;
  • Securing appropriate health services;
  • Pursuing leisure activities;
  • Developing a positive network of friends and relatives.

Strategies need to be based on social work assessment, which should include the following:

  • How the child became involved;
  • Motivating factors to remain involved; financial, housing, drug use etc;
  • The child's perception and intention;
  • The child's development, including self - identity and self-esteem;
  • The child's coping strategies and sources of support;
  • Immediate health and welfare needs and potential risks;
  • The family context and potential support;
  • Plans for relapse prevention

10. Children who may have been trafficked

Whilst the majority of child Trafficking cases known about involve Cross Border movement (see Cross Border Child Protection Cases under the Hague Convention), it is also known that child trafficking occurs within the UK. A number of serious case reviews involving organised child sexual exploitation and trafficking have raised this issue. Children may be trafficked internally within the UK for a variety of reasons, many of them similar to the reasons children are trafficked between countries. Where children have been violently controlled by criminal gangs for sexual exploitation, the children may in some cases have been moved between several locations to retain control of their victims. Investigations may arise in circumstances where a child has gone missing. They may be sexually abused before being taken to other towns and cities where the sexual exploitation continues.

Where evidence supports an offence of trafficking within the UK (under Section 58 Sexual Offences Act 2003 (amended by Section 59A (1)(b) then this offence should be charged.

See also: DfE, Working with foreign authorities: child protection cases and care orders – Departmental advice for local authorities, social workers, service managers and children’s services lawyers.

DfE, Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (November 2017)

The National Referral Mechanism (NRA)

In 2009, as a result of the UK ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, a system for formal identification of child and adult victims was introduced, called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). It is a framework for identifying victims of trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support. The NRM is also the mechanism through which the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Centre collects data about victims.

For more information on referring to the NRM, click here.

Referral forms are available at GOV.UK, and provide a comprehensive list of indicators of children who may have been trafficked.

In all cases where children may be trafficked for sexual exploitation all agencies should make every effort to work in coordination across Local Authority borders and Police Force boundaries.

In such cases the multi-agency response should be tailored to the needs of the trafficked children.

In these circumstances where a child has been trafficked or is at risk of being trafficked then an immediate referral to Children Social Care or Police is required as this amounts to significant harm.

The DFE and Home Office published guidance in October 2011 Working Together to Safeguard Children Who May Have Been Trafficked. It provides guidance on the roles and functions of all relevant agencies in identifying and supporting child victims.

Safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity

Children and young people associating with or targeted by gang members are at particular risk of being sexually exploited and abused. All agencies working with young people need to ensure that they are working together to prevent young people being drawn into gangs, to support those who have been drawn into the margins of gangs and to protect those who are at immediate risk of harm because of gangs.

Where concerns are raised a referral should be made to Children Social Care for an assessment.

11. Further Information

Alexis Jay OBE, Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997-2013, 2014

The Blast! Project, BOYS ARE SEXUALLY EXPLOITED TOO: a guide for professionals working with boys and young men who are being, or are at risk of being, sexually exploited, March 2014

Sue Berelowitz et al. "If only someone had listened": Office of the Children's Commissioner's Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, Final Report, November 2013

The Relational Safeguarding Model: Best practice in working with families affected by child sexual exploitation, PACE 2014

Sex and Relationships Education Guidance for headteachers, Teachers & School Governors

Brook / PSHE Association, Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for the 21st Century

Ofsted, The Sexual Exploitation of Children: it couldn’t happen here, could it? (November 2014)

HM Government, Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation, (2015)

Home Office, Tackling child sexual exploitation: Progress report (2017)

Children’s Commissioner, ‘Preventing Child Sexual Abuse’ (2017)

College of Policing, ‘Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation’

LGA, Child sexual exploitation: A resource back for councils (2017)

Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse, Key messages from research on child sexual exploitation

Research in practice, Child sexual exploitation: Practice Tool (2017)

NCA, Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU)

Barnardo’s - Child Sexual Exploitation

Appendix 1: Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment

Click here to see Appendix 1: Child Sexual Exploitation Guidance and Risk Assessment