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1.4.6 Safeguarding Children and Young People from Child Sexual Exploitation: Policy, Procedures and Guidance


Child Abuse and Information Communication Technology

Joint Protocol for Children Missing from Home or Care


Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (DfE, 2017) - definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation

Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse

Barnardos - Child Sexual Exploitation – resources and research on CSE

Child Sexual Exploitation: Practice Tool (Research in Practice, 2017) - further background information about child sexual exploitation and additional commentary around some of the complexities of practically responding to the issue

Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation – College of Policing

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for the 21st Century, Brook, PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum, 2014 (This should be read alongside previous DfE Sex and Relationship Guidance for Schools).

West Yorkshire Documents

Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Tool

Child Sexual Exploitation Information Report – to be used for sharing information and intelligence about suspected child sexual exploitation with local Police Safeguarding Team or joint agency teams.


In May 2017, the definition of Child Sexual Exploitation contained in this guidance was updated to reflect the 2017 Department for Education publication Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners.


  1. Introduction and Links to Local Resources
  2. The Child
  3. Important Information about Sexual Exploitation
  4. Roles Roles and Responsibilities of Safeguarding Children Partnerships and Individual Organisations
  5. Preventing Child Sexual Exploitation
  6. Managing Individual Cases
  7. Identifying, Disrupting and Prosecuting Perpetrators
  8. Social Media

1. Introduction and Links to Local Resources


This chapter contains information about child sexual exploitation (CSE) including how to recognise indicators that a child or young person is being sexually exploited, the roles and responsibilities of relevant agencies and the procedures practitioners should follow to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people where there are concerns that they have been, or are at risk of being sexually exploited.


Each local authority in West Yorkshire has signed up to these procedures. However variations do exist in relation to specific local arrangements and systems for managing child sexual exploitation. For this reason, practitioners should refer to the relevant supplementary documents which can be found via the links below:

Key Principles

Sexual exploitation of children and young people has been identified throughout the UK, in both rural and urban areas. It affects boys and young men as well as girls and young women. It can have a serious impact on every aspect of the lives of children involved.

It is a crime that knows no borders and can even be global in nature. Cross border cooperation is crucial as it is possible that activity in one area may push perpetrators across a border together with young victims.

Child sexual exploitation is defined as:

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”.

Child Sexual Exploitation - Definition and a Guide for Practitioners, Local Leaders and Decision Makers (DfE, 2017)

Children involved in any form of sexual exploitation are victims of abuse and their needs should be carefully assessed. The aim of any intervention should be to protect them from further harm. Criminal justice responses should be directed at perpetrators who groom children for sexual exploitation. 

Government guidance requires agencies to work together to:

  1. Develop local prevention strategies;
  2. Identify those at risk of sexual exploitation;
  3. Take action to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people who being sexually exploited; and
  4. Take action against perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.

In doing so, the key principles should be:

  1. A child-centred approach. Action should be focussed on the child’s individual needs; taking into consideration the fact that children do not always acknowledge what may be an exploitative or abusive situation;
  2. A proactive approach. This should be focussed on prevention, early identification and intervention as well as disrupting activity and prosecuting perpetrators;
  3. Parenting, family life, and services. Taking account of family circumstances in deciding how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people;
  4. The rights of children and young people. Children and young people are entitled to be safeguarded from sexual exploitation just as agencies have duties in respect of safeguarding and promoting welfare;
  5. Responsibility for criminal acts. Sexual exploitation of children and young people is child sexual abuse. Police investigations should focus on those who coerce, exploit and abuse children and young people;
  6. An integrated approach. Sexual exploitation requires a three-pronged approach tackling prevention, protection and prosecution;
  7. A shared responsibility. The need for effective joint working between different agencies and practitioners underpinned by a strong commitment from managers, a shared understanding of the problem of sexual exploitation and effective coordination by Safeguarding Children Partnerships.

2. The Child

Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances.

Sexual exploitation results in children and young people suffering harm, and causes significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for the child’s family. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel alienated and their self-esteem affected. Family members can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.

There are strong links between children involved in sexual exploitation and other behaviours such as running away from home or care, bullying, self-harm, teenage pregnancy, absence from school and substance misuse. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable, for example, children with special needs, those in residential or foster care, those leaving care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children and those involved in gangs.

The majority of sexually exploited children are hidden from public view.

Children and young people are often sexually exploited / groomed for sexual exploitation by people with whom they feel they have a relationship, e.g. a boyfriend / friend.

Due to the nature of the grooming methods used by abusers, it is very common for children and young people who are sexually exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Practitioners should be aware that particularly young people aged 16 and 17 may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily and will need practitioners to work with them so they can recognise that they are being sexually exploited.

3. Important Information about Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It can take many forms from the seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and internal child trafficking.

What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship. The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.

Technology can play a part in sexual exploitation, for example, through its use to record abuse and share it with other like-minded individuals or as a medium to access children and young people online in order to groom them.

Sexual exploitation has strong links with other forms of crime, for example, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children and child trafficking.

The perpetrators of sexual exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target areas where children and young people gather without much adult supervision, e.g. parks or shopping centres, takeaway restaurants or sites on the Internet.

4. Roles Roles and Responsibilities of Safeguarding Children Partnerships and Individual Organisations

Work to tackle sexual exploitation should follow the same principles as addressing other forms of abuse or neglect.

Safeguarding Children Partnerships should ensure their policies and procedures cover:

  1. How to identify signs of sexual exploitation;
  2. How practitioners can seek help and advice on this issue;
  3. How practitioners should share information within government guidelines;
  4. The establishment of Lead Practitioners in the key agencies, the routes for referring concerns and how concerns about sexual exploitation relate to thresholds for referral to Children’s Social Care Services;
  5. How practitioners can work together to deliver disruption plans;
  6. How practitioners can gather and preserve the integrity of evidence about perpetrators of sexual exploitation;
  7. The process and possible responses for supporting children and young people identified at being at risk of sexual exploitation;
  8. How to work with other local authority areas where children who have been sexually exploited are thought to have lived;
  9. How to deal with issues relating to migrant children in situations which make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation;
  10. How to manage situations of sexual exploitation through the use of technology such as the internet.

Safeguarding Children Partnerships should ensure there is a dedicated lead person in each partner organisation with responsibility for child sexual exploitation and that work in its area with children and young people who have been or are likely to be sexually exploited is coordinated.

All organisations that provide services for, or work with children, need to have arrangements in place which fulfil their commitment to safeguard and promote the welfare of children by ensuring that:

  1. Safeguarding training and refresher training includes an awareness of sexual exploitation, how to identify the warning signs, together with the recording and retention of information and gathering evidence;
  2. Their policies for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people are compatible with the Safeguarding Children Partnership policies and procedures;
  3. Information sharing protocols are in place and working well so that relevant information is always shared where this is in the best interest of the child.

5. Preventing Child Sexual Exploitation

Prevention means that the risk that children and young people will become victims of sexual exploitation is reduced by:

  1. Reducing their vulnerability;
  2. Improving their resilience;
  3. Disrupting and preventing the activities of perpetrators;
  4. Reducing tolerance of exploitative behaviour;
  5. Prosecuting abusers.

Prevention measures will include the development of education and awareness raising programmes for children and young people so that they can make safe and healthy choices about relationships and sexual health, as well as for parents and carers (particularly those responsible for children living away from home) and people whose work places them in a position where they would notice and could report worrying behaviours (e.g. shopkeepers, park attendants and hostel managers) who are not traditionally regarded as part of the safeguarding community.

6. Managing Individual Cases

6.1 Identification of Risk and Possible Indicators

Anyone who has regular contact with children is in a good position to notice changes in behaviour and physical signs that may indicate involvement in sexual exploitation.

Relevant staff should also know how to monitor online spaces and be prepared to request access reports where they are suspicious that a child is being groomed online.

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

The factors below are recognised as factors linked to sexual exploitation. It is not an exhaustive list and each indicator is not in itself proof of involvement in child sexual exploitation. Concerns should increase the more indicators which are present although one single indicator alone may in itself be significant. Practitioners should use their judgment when considering these factors. They are:

  1. Health – physical symptoms e.g. bruising, chronic fatigue, recurring or multiple sexually transmitted infections; pregnancy and/or seeking a termination of pregnancy; evidence of drug, alcohol or substance misuse; sexually risky behaviour; self-harm or eating disorders;
  2. Education – missing school; disengagement with education; considerable change in performance at school;
  3. Emotional and behavioural development – volatile behaviour exhibiting extreme array of mood swings or use of abusive language; sexualised language; anti-social behaviour; involvement in petty crime; secretive behaviour e.g. about internet use; entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  4. Identity – low self-image; low self-esteem; self-harm; eating disorder;
  5. Family and social relationships – hostility in relationship with parents, carers and/or other family members; physical aggressions towards parents, siblings, pets, teachers or peers; placement breakdown; detachment from age appropriate activities; association with other young people who are known to be sexually exploited; sexual relationship with a significantly older person; unexplained relationships with older adults (e.g. through texts and phone calls); staying out overnight or returning late with no plausible explanation; persistently missing or missing with no known home base; returning after having been missing looking well cared for with no known home base; going missing and being found in an area where the child has no known links;
  6. Social presentation – change in appearance; leaving home in clothing unusual for the child e.g. inappropriate for age;
  7. Parental capacity – family history of parental neglect or abuse;
  8. Family and environmental factors – family history of domestic violence; pattern of homelessness;
  9. Income – possession of large amounts of money with no plausible explanation; acquisition of expensive clothes, mobile phones, credit on mobile phones; a number of sim cards; other possessions without plausible explanation; accounts of social activities with no plausible explanation of the source of necessary funding;
  10. Social integration – frequenting known high-risk areas e.g. known to be used for sexual exploitation (including takeway restaurants, parks and shopping centres) or going to addresses of concern.

The Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Tool should be completed for any child or young person where there are concerns that a child is being sexually exploited or is at risk of being sexually exploited. Additional factors apply in relation to boys and young men. The completed form must be attached to a referral to any other agency.

Concerns that a child may be at risk of sexual exploitation should be discussed with a manager and/or designated professional for safeguarding and a decision made as to whether there should be a referral to Children’s Social Care Services.

Where appropriate the wishes and feelings of the child or young person and their parents or carers should be obtained when deciding how to proceed. Practitioners should be aware that in some cases this may not be in the child’s best interests and could lead to the child being placed at further risk. Therefore practitioners should seek advice from their local children’s social care service if they are in any doubt about this.

Where an agency is concerned about losing the engagement of a child or young person by reporting their concern to Children’s Social Care Services, the agency should discuss this with Children’s Social Care to agree a way forward. Any decision not to share information or refer a child should be fully recorded.

6.2 Referral

Practitioners who have a concern that a child or young person is experiencing or at risk of child sexual exploitation must make a referral to Children’s Social Care Services, and if this is by telephone, they must submit their referral in writing within 48 hours.

Children's Social Care Services must decide and record their proposed action in line with their local procedures normally within 24 hours. This decision should normally follow discussion with the referrer and other involved practitioners, as well as the consideration of any background information already held by Children's Social Care Services.

Where Children's Social Care Services decide to take no further action, this decision must be recorded and the referrer must be informed. Children's Social Care Services may decide with the referrer, that whilst there is no evidence of sexual exploitation, the child may still appear vulnerable and that an Early Help Assessment or CAF should be undertaken by the involved agencies, if one has not already been undertaken.

The outcome of the referral will be either:

  1. That no further action is required;
  2. A referral to another agency and/or provision of advice and information and/or an Early Help Assessment or CAF be undertaken by a relevant agency, with no further action required by Children's Social Care;
  3. That the child appears to be a Child in Need and that a Single Assessment by children’s social care is required;
  4. There is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm and that a Section 47 Enquiry is required;
  5. That emergency protective action should be taken to safeguard the child;
  6. Where the child is already known and new information suggests the child is or may be suffering Significant Harm, a Section 47 and/or a new or updated Single Assessment is required; or

Children’s social Care (children’s social care) will inform the Children's Safeguarding Identified lead of the referral outcome.

6.3 Strategy Discussion, Section 47 Enquiries and Single Assessment

When a child is suspected of suffering, or likely to suffer, Significant Harm, the local authority is required by S47 of the Children Act 1989 to make enquiries to enable it to decide whether it should take any action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. For further guidance please see Child Protection Enquiries - Section 47 Children Act 1989.

Children’s Social Care Services will hold a Strategy Discussion with the Police, the referring agency and other relevant agencies. If the child is receiving hospital treatment and/or a medical examination is required the medical consultant must be involved. Please see Strategy Discussions / Meetings Procedure.

If concerns about child sexual exploitation remain after these Strategy Discussions are held, a Strategy Meeting should be held. This is a multi-agency meeting that will enable information to be shared and plans to be made. This Strategy Meeting should be chaired by a manager from the local children’s social care department as agreed locally.

6.4 The Outcome of Section 47 Enquiries and the Single Assessment

The outcome of Section 47 Enquires and the Single Assessment must be concluded, as set out under Child Protection Enquiries - Section 47 Children Act 1989 and Single Assessment Procedure.

The outcome of the Section 47 must be recorded and concluded under one of the following categories:

  1. Concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm.

    Where the agencies most involved judge that a child is suffering or likely to suffer, Significant Harm, Children’s Social Care must convene a Child Protection Conference. For more information please see Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure.

    If the child is already subject to a Child Protection Plan, discussions must take place about any further protective steps needed to ensure the safety of the child. The Chair of the Child Protection Conference must also be advised and consulted.
  1. Concerns are not substantiated.

    Although Section 47 Enquires may have identified that the child is not suffering Significant Harm, the child may still have additional needs that warrant coordinated professional intervention. In such cases, support should be provided via a Child in Need Plan or via the Early Help Assessment / CAF. Where no additional needs are identified, no further intervention will be required.

The child sexual exploitation lead within children’s social care must be informed of the outcome of the Section 47 and the Single Assessment.

6.5 Immediate Protection

Where immediate action to safeguard a child is required, it may involve removing the child from the home of a person who is exploiting them to a safe place. However, those working with children in these circumstances must never underestimate the power of perpetrators to find where the child is.

Such children will need placements with carers who have experience of building trusting relationships and skills at containing young people.

A decision to place a child or young person in secure accommodation should only be considered in extreme circumstances, when they are suffering Significant Harm. In cases where the child is under the age of 13, the approval of the Secretary of State must be sought.

6.6 Intervention and Support

Agencies should recognise that there may be a strong relationship between the child and the coercer/abuser and it may be difficult for the child to break this relationship.

A strategy should therefore be developed (jointly with the child and family wherever possible), to address the child’s needs and help him or her to move on from the exploitative situation. It could include specialist therapeutic support, mentoring to assist a return to education or employment, outreach work, help to secure appropriate health services, and assistance to develop a positive network of friends and relatives.

The particular circumstances of the child should of course be taken into account in developing the multi agency response and the plan for services should be tailored to meet their specific needs, e.g. whether they are Looked After and/or preparing to leave care, not receiving a suitable education, often missing from home or care, may have been trafficked and/or may be affected by gang activity.

Parents should be engaged in this process unless they are implicated in the sexual exploitation.

6.7 Looked After Children

Children who are looked after by the local authority can be more vulnerable to exploitation. Foster carers and staff in Children’s Homes must be able to recognise the possible indicators of child sexual exploitation.

The Independent Reviewing Officer must be kept informed of any concerns relating to child sexual exploitation or any other form of suspected abuse.

7. Identifying, Disrupting and Prosecuting Perpetrators

Identifying, disrupting and prosecuting perpetrators is a key part of work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from sexual exploitation.

While the police and criminal justice agencies lead on this, the support of all partners in gathering and recording information/evidence is vital. All those involved in caring for a child who is suspected to be at risk of sexual exploitation should gather, record and share information to this end. Parents and carers should be encouraged and supported to do so, ensuring that information is recorded in such a way that it can be used by the Crown Prosecution Service and accepted in Court.

When a child or young person has been assessed as being at risk of child sexual exploitation, the Child Sexual Exploitation Information Report should be completed by all agencies to record and share any new information with the police district Safeguarding Team for recording and further research. This form can also be used to share information about suspected perpetrators, locations etc.

Where a young person wants and is able to be part of a prosecution, it is essential that they are supported through this process and after the prosecution has taken place. See CPS Safeguarding Children as Victims and Witnesses.

The Police National Database (PND) is a police-led information management system. It enables an investigator in one police force to identify which other police force holds relevant information on a given individual and is available to assist in the protection of children and young people from sexual exploitation.

In addition Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, can assist by ensuring that offenders are managed so as to protect children from sexual exploitation.

West Yorkshire Police will:

  1. Provide training to staff at appropriate levels in recognising and responding correctly to issues of child sexual exploitation and make policy and guidance documentation available to all staff;
  2. Identify a Divisional Champion for the management and coordination of child sexual exploitation investigations and a Divisional single point of contact (SPOC) for CSE issues and communicate this to partner agencies;
  3. Receive, research, collate and action internal and partner intelligence;
  4. Share intelligence and information with partners;
  5. Ensure that all Child Protection concerns are referred or notified to Children’s Social Care Department in accordance with the West Yorkshire Consortium Procedures Manual;
  6. Conduct criminal investigations into all allegations of offences committed against children;
  7. Participate in joint investigations where appropriate in accordance with those policies and Working Together to Safeguard Children;
  8. Implement early intervention strategies through the use of Force guidance in respect of disruption activities and the use of Court Orders;
  9. Use the Force Harbourers of Children and Young People policy to support prosecutions under the Child Abduction Act 1984 and Children Act;
  10. Make appropriate use of child protection powers;
  11. Ensure the use of Special Measures in accordance with the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999;
  12. Participate in joint information sharing and action planning with partner agencies (Strategy meetings, child protection Case Conferences and interagency CSE forums).

Statutory partners to this Protocol will agree a local process to routinely meet to share and review information and intelligence on those suspected of perpetrating the sexual exploitation of children. These CSE partnership meetings will not supplant, replace or override current local statutory child protection procedures. They will collect and collate intelligence about offenders with the intention of enabling all partners to identify and secure evidence to sustain prevention, disruption and prosecution activity against those perpetrators by:

  1. Identifying children at risk of sexual exploitation;
  2. Ensuring they are referred into and managed within formal child protection processes at the appropriate level;
  3. Sharing information about them under the authority of the Children Act 1989;
  4. Identifying individuals responsible for perpetrating child sexual exploitation and networks and the links between individuals;
  5. Identifying locations where CSE is taking place;
  6. Identifying and tasking group members with actions to achieve the overall aim of the group in relation to the children, perpetrators and locations identified.

8. Social Media

The use of media and technology is widespread among young people. Smart-phones, laptops, games consoles and tablet computers can be used to exchange information by text / instant messaging, e-mail and via social networking sites.

The use of electronic media presents considerable opportunities to abusers and provides powerful tools with which to groom and control victims. Grooming is defined as developing the trust of a young person or his or her family in order to engage in illegal sexual conduct. It may include:

  1. Causing a child to watch a sexual act, e.g. sending sexually themed adult content or images and videos featuring child sexual abuse to a young person;
  2. Inciting a child to perform a sexual act, e.g. by threatening to show sexual images of a child to their peers or parents (e.g. self-produced material or even a pseudo-image of the child);
  3. Suspicious online contact with a child, e.g. asking a young user sexual questions;
  4. Asking a child to meet in person; befriending a child and gaining their trust, etc;

It is also known that abusers and exploiters will sometimes pose as teenagers to obtain sexually explicit images via web cams or making arrangements to meet the victim. Often these individuals live some considerable distance from the victim and initially make contact through legitimate sites used by young people. 

Where text / instant messages are used for communication between victim and abuser, it can present significant access difficulties to investigating authorities seeking evidential material.

However, telephone and internet communication can provide excellent evidence against abusers and can assist in identifying perpetrators and unknown victims and in identifying networks. It is vital that those having care of children at risk of CSE gather as much information as possible re mobile numbers, text communications and social networking contacts and forward it to police SPOCs to assist the police in collating this evidence.