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

Modern Slavery Procedure

Children From Abroad Procedure

Procedures for Video Recording Interviews with Children


This chapter was amended in April 2022 to include links to Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy (GOV.UK), Tackling Child Exploitation: Resources Pack (Local Government Association), The Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted) and the NSPCC Report Remove Tool. The tool enables young people under the age of 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves which has appeared online. The Internet Watch Foundation will review these reports and work to remove any content which breaks the law.

These can be found in Section 9, Further Information.

This chapter is currently under review.

1. Introduction

Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Professionals talks about child exploitation in the following terms:

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse includes any act of 'forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities' (see Working Together to Safeguard Children for the full definition of sexual abuse)

Like any other form of child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation:

  • Can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years, including 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to sex. This includes teenage relationship abuse;
  • Can still be abuse even if the sexual activity appears consensual;
  • Can include both contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts) and non-contact sexual activity;
  • Can take place in person and via technology, or a combination of both;
  • Can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and may, or may not, be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • May occur without the child or young person's immediate knowledge (through others copying videos or images they have posted on social media);
  • Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and children or adults. The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time, and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse;
  • Is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the abuse. Whilst age may be the most obvious, the power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, intellect, physical strength, status, and access to economic and other resources.

Distinguishing features of child sexual exploitation.

The key factor that distinguishes cases of child exploitation from other forms of child sexual abuse is the presence of some form of exchange, for the victim and/or perpetrator or facilitator.

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 are victims and their needs should be 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 suffering from, or at risk of sexual exploitation. Staff should be able to recognise when a child is at risk from or experiencing sexual exploitation and know how to respond, so they are able to:

  • 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;
  • Help children to understand how the perpetrators of sexual exploitation operate in the community and online;
  • Follow all local procedures to Safeguard Children and Promote their Welfare;
  • Work together to support children and help them to exit safely from sexual exploitation;
  • Support the identification, investigation, and prosecution of those who groom, coerce, exploit and abuse children through sexual exploitation and/or trafficking.

3. Definitions

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse. The 2009 statutory guidance Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation provides the following information:

"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."

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. They may also be traumatised if they witness exploitation and threats against others. 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).

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 Child Exploitation Screening Tool and accompanying guidance.

The screening tool should be used when there are concerns that a child may be involved in, or at increased risk of entering, an exploitative relationship or situation. It is best practice to complete the form with the child or young person unless it is unsafe to do so. The tool helps to gather the information required to make a decision about risk and vulnerability.

The screening tool is for use with children up to the age of 18 (up to and including those aged 24 years with additional needs) irrespective of whether they are living independently, at home, with carers, or in a residential setting. It can be used with Care Leavers up to the age of 21(or 24 if in full time education).

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 to be at low risk.

There is also local evidence that looked after children and adopted children, as well as those with a diagnosis of ADHD, Autism and/or ASD can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Care also needs to be taken when working with children who are experiencing emotional distress and trauma.

Where screening identifies vulnerabilities or other factors that could be increasing risk, the first step should be to consider how these might be addressed through early help or existing work/interventions with the child, family, peer group, or school setting. Early intervention to reduce vulnerability factors for children and young people should also be considered: this should include life mapping and referrals for psychological support where applicable.

Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Meeting (MACE)

It is the role of MACE to draw together information from screening tools and other information and intelligence to explore what options are available to disrupt sexual exploitation in the community.

Cases should be referred to MACE if screening or other intelligence identifies that:

  • The child has links to a known or suspected perpetrator of either sexual or criminal exploitation; or
  • There is a significant risk of exploitation to the child from an unknown perpetrator;

If it is decided to share this information at MACE the screener is required to inform the child and family/carers.

The completion of a screening tool and/or a referral to MACE does not replace statutory safeguarding duties under Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018.

If a child is believed to be at immediate risk of exploitation, safeguarding action should be taken. Refer directly to the Children's Services Customer Service Centre on 01522 782111. If there are immediate risks to the child/young person's safety then this must be reported without delay to the Police.

For emergencies use 999. For urgent/immediate reporting use 101.

If professional judgement identifies a significant risk of exploitation then it is likely that there will be serious or complex needs or Child Protection concerns requiring an immediate referral to Children's Services (see Safeguarding Referrals Procedure). Children's Services 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 the completion of a Child and Family Assessment, or at any time where a child is receiving support services and 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.

Partnership Information Report – 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. 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

8. Children who may have been Trafficked

See the LSCP Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked Procedure for further information regarding the multi-agency approach to trafficking and the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

See also: Cross-border Child Protection Cases: The 1996 Hague Convention.

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

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.

9. Further Information

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

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

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

Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy (GOV.UK)

The Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted)

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

LSCP multi-agency Child Exploitation Screening Tool and accompanying guidance.

Tackling Child Exploitation: Resources Pack (Local Government Association)

NSPCC Report Remove Tool - The tool enables young people under the age of 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves which has appeared online. The Internet Watch Foundation will review these reports and work to remove any content which breaks the law.