1.4.7 Child Exploitation: Policy, Procedures and Guidance

RELATED CHAPTERS

Child Abuse and Information Communication Technology Procedure

Joint Protocol for Children Missing from Home or Care Procedure

Children from Abroad, including Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation Procedure

Gang Activity and Youth Violence Procedure

Investigation Strategy for Harbourers of Children and Young People

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

AMENDMENT

This chapter contains information about child exploitation (CE) including how to recognise indicators that a child or young person is being 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 exploited. It also links to relevant local resources for each local authority in West Yorkshire. It was added to the online procedures in August 2020.

1. Introduction and Links to Local Resources

This chapter contains information about child exploitation (CE) including how to recognise indicators that a child or young person is being 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 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 exploitation. For this reason, practitioners should refer to the relevant supplementary documents which can be found via the links below:

See also West Yorkshire Child Sexual and Criminal Exploitation Information Report.

Key Principles

The world of Safeguarding is ever changing; it is becoming increasingly complex and child exploitation should not be seen in isolation as it often overlaps with peer on peer violence and abuse, modern day slavery, harmful sexual behaviour, gang and group activity, anti-social and offending behaviour and going missing from home or care. Together these create a set of harmful circumstances and experiences for children and young people.

The exploitation of children and young people has been identified throughout the UK, in both rural and urban areas. It affects all children from all backgrounds and it can have a serious impact on every aspect of the lives of children involved and on their families. Due to its nature, child exploitation is a crime that has no borders. Cross border agency cooperation is therefore crucial.

Working Together to Safeguarding Children 2018 reflects changes to traditional child safeguarding practice and the increasing knowledge and understanding relating to extra familiar risks to children and young people. When there is concern relating to child exploitation, the guidance for agencies and partnerships is to consider a contextual safeguarding approach to safeguard children and young people effectively:

"As well as threats to the welfare of children from within their families, children may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from outside their families. These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online. These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking, online abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation."

''Assessments of children in such cases should consider whether wider environmental factors are present in a child's life and are a threat to their safety and/or welfare.'' (pg. 22)

Definitions

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))

Child criminal exploitation is defined as:

''where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into any criminal activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial or other advantage of the perpetrator or facilitator and/or (c) through violence or the threat of violence. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child criminal exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.''

Serious Violence Strategy (HM Government, 2018)

County lines:

is a term used to describe Gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas [within the UK], using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of "deal line". They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move [and store] the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.

Serious Violence Strategy (HM Government, 2018)

Children who are exploited 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 facilitators and/or perpetrators of child exploitation.
Government guidance requires agencies to work together to:

  • Develop local prevention strategies;
  • Identify children and young people at risk of exploitation;
  • Take action to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people who are vulnerable to, or experiencing exploitation; and
  • Take action against the facilitators and/or perpetrators of child exploitation.

In doing so, the key principles should be:

  • 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;
  • A proactive approach. Focussed on prevention, early identification and intervention as well as disrupting activity and prosecuting those who facilitate and/or perpetrate child exploitation;
  • Parenting, family life, and services. Taking account of family circumstances when considering how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people;
  • The rights of children and young people. Children and young people are entitled to be safeguarded from exploitation, just as agencies have duties in respect of safeguarding them and promoting their welfare;
  • Responsibility for criminal acts. The exploitation of children and young people is child abuse. Police investigations should focus on those who facilitate and/or perpetrate the exploitation of children and young people.
  • An integrated approach. Child exploitation requires a three-pronged multi-agency approach: prevention, protection and prosecution;
  • A shared responsibility. There is a need for effective joint working between different agencies and practitioners underpinned by a strong commitment from senior leaders and managers across the partnership to effectively tackle child exploitation. A shared understanding of the problem of child exploitation and effective coordination should occur through Safeguarding Children Partnerships.

2. The Child

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

Child exploitation results in children and young people suffering harm, it causes significant damage to their emotional, mental and physical health, affecting their overall wellbeing. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for a child's family. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel under threat, alienated and scared. Close and extended family members, and friends or partners of children and young people may suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of facilitators and/or perpetrators of child exploitation.

There are strong links between children who experience exploitation and other behaviours such as running away from home or care, going missing, bullying, emotional well being and mental health problems, substance misuse, anti-social and offending behaviours, exclusion from school, and problems with family relationships. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, including children with additional needs, children who are Looked After, care leavers, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children and children who have experience of domestic abuse.

Children and young people are often groomed and exploited by people with whom they feel they have a relationship with.

Due to the nature of grooming methods used by facilitators and those who exploit and abuse children and young people, it is very common for children and young people who are exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Practitioners should be aware that older children in particular may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily, and they will need practitioners to work alongside them, to help them recognise that they are experiencing or have experienced exploitation and abuse.

3. Important Information about Child Exploitation

Child exploitation is a form of child abuse. It can take many forms from a seemingly 'consensual' relationship where there is an exchange of something, such as attention, goods, status, a sense of belonging, substances, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime which involves international and/or internal child trafficking and modern slavery.

An imbalance of power within the relationship characterises child exploitation. Those who facilitate or perpetrate child exploitation always have a degree of power and control over the child or young person, and this often results in the child or young person having an increasing level of dependence on the person or persons exploiting them as the exploitative relationship develops. Coercion and violence go hand in hand with child exploitation.

Technology can play a part in child exploitation, for example, through its use to record and share incriminating activity and/or abuse, or as a medium to groom children and young people, and/or by utilising apps such as those that allow geo tracking, or online banking apps used for money laundering, or those which provide access to temporary accommodation.

Child exploitation also has strong links with other forms of crime, for example, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children, modern day slavery, forced labour and child trafficking.

The perpetrators of child exploitation are often well organised and may use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target children and young people in online or off line places and spaces where children and young people come together with little or no adult supervision, such as music video channels, chat rooms, parks, street 'corners' house parties, shopping centres or takeaway restaurants.

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

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

Safeguarding Children Partnerships should ensure their policies and procedures cover:

  • How to identify signs of child exploitation;
  • How practitioners can seek help and advice;
  • How practitioners should share information within government guidelines;
  • The establishment of Lead Practitioners in local areas
  • Pathways for referring child exploitation concerns with the relevant local authority Children's Social Care Services and the Police;
  • How practitioners can work together to deliver disruption plans;
  • How practitioners can gather and preserve the integrity of evidence relating to child exploitation;
  • The process and possible responses for supporting children, young people their families and communities.
  • How to work with other local authority areas across geographical borders, to ensure that children and young people who are, or have been exploited, and their families, are safeguarded, and those who facilitate or exploit them are identified, targeted and disrupted.
  • How to deal with issues relating to migrant children in situations which make them vulnerable to child exploitation;
  • How to manage and respond to the facilitation of child exploitation through the use of technology.

Safeguarding Children Partnerships should ensure there is a dedicated lead person in each partner organisation with responsibility for the oversight of child exploitation and that work in the locality 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:

  • Safeguarding training includes an awareness of child exploitation, and that this covers how to identify warning signs, how to make appropriate referrals for support and intervention, and how to capture and share information appropriately;
  • Policies for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people are compatible with the Safeguarding Children Partnership policies and procedures;
  • Effective Information sharing protocols are in place, ensuring that relevant information is always shared.

5. Preventing Child Exploitation

Prevention measures should include:

  • Reducing the vulnerability of children and young people;
  • Improving children's resilience;
  • Disrupting and preventing the activities of facilitators and perpetrators;
  • Reducing tolerance of exploitative behaviour;
  • Building the strength of families and communities to keep children safe
  • Prosecuting those who facilitate, exploit and abuse.

The development of education and awareness raising programmes is vital. When aimed at children and young people these should help them make informed choices and safe decisions about friendships, behaviours, locations and relationships.

Resources for parents and carers (particularly those responsible for children living away from home) should help them understand how they can protect, build resilience and access support. Resources should also be developed for people who are not traditionally regarded as part of the safeguarding community, but whose employment places them in a situations where they may notice concerns (e.g. shopkeepers, park attendants, taxi drivers and hostel managers) these resources should include how to identify and report concerns.

6. Managing Individual Cases

6.1 Identification of Risk and Possible Indicators

Anyone who comes into regular contact with a child is in a good position to notice changes in their behaviour and/or physical signs, which may be an indication that the child or young person is experiencing exploitation and harm.

The fact that a young person is 16 or 17 years old should not alter how a practitioner /agency responds to a concern which relates to child exploitation.

Below are indicators linked to child exploitation, they include factors that may heighten vulnerability. The indicators do not create an exhaustive list, and each is not in itself proof that a child is at risk of exploitation, or is being exploited. Concern should increase with the number of indicators present, although one single indicator alone may in itself be significant. Practitioners should use their judgment and knowledge of a child /young person and their circumstances when assessing risk and vulnerability.

  • Family and social relationships – hostility /aggression in relationship with parents, carers and/or other family members, or peers; association with adults or other children /young people who are assessed to be at risk of exploitation /known to be exploited; unexplained relationships with unknown adults, reduced contact with family/friends which is of concern, spends time at addresses and places not know to parent/carer, goes or is taken to places they have no known connections with. Gang association. New friendship groups.
  • Health – evidence of drug, alcohol or substance misuse; self-harm, eating disorders; physical injuries, such as bruising, knife inflicted and/or sexual violence injuries. Low self-esteem; expressions around invincibility or not caring about what happens to them, low self-esteem, low mood.
  • Education – disengagement with education, employment or training; considerable change in performance and/or behaviour; not in mainstream education, excluded, whereabouts unknown during school /college/work hours.
  • Behavioural – bullying/threatening behaviour, aggression, anti-social behaviour; offending behaviour; secretive, mood swings, social isolation, detachment from age appropriate activities /friendship groups.
  • Social presentation – change in appearance /clothing, new tattoos, branding.
  • Family and environmental factors – family history of parental neglect or abuse, mental health, domestic abuse, gang association/neighbourhood, offending, bereavement, parental separation, poverty and deprivation. Scared of reprisal or violence.
  • Income – possession of unexplained money and/or items such as clothing, mobile phones, credit on mobile phones; sim cards; accounts of social activities including parties, and travel with no plausible explanation of the source of funding;
  • Missing from home, care or school.*

* Missing is a key indicator of child exploitation, missing is defined when a child or young person is not where they are meant / thought to be and their whereabouts cannot be established. Reporting a child as missing, is a crucial safeguarding tool.

When considering child exploitation indicators, practitioners should take into account that these do not necessarily mean that a child is at risk of or experiencing exploitation.

It is crucial to recognise that a child with vulnerability factors does not automatically indicate that they are at risk of exploitation. The exploitation of a child occurs because a facilitator or abuser recognises, responds and takes advantage of a child's vulnerability, and that this is often enabled by an absence of protective structures around the child, their family, social relationships and/or social spaces.

In accordance with the local area procedures,  a Risk Assessment Tool for Child Exploitation should be completed by a practitioner in relation to any child or young person where there are concerns that they are being exploited or that they are vulnerable to exploitation (see Section 1, Introduction and Links to Local Resources).

Every assessment undertaken in relation to child exploitation should reflect the individual circumstances and characteristics of the child within their family, peer and community context. All assessments should include an analysis of parental capacity to meet the needs and reduce the vulnerability of the child or young person, whether they arise from issues within the family or from the child or young person's wider social relationships and/or community context.

Concerns that a child may be at risk of being exploited should be discussed with a manager and/or the designated professional for safeguarding and a decision made as to whether a referral to the relevant local authority Children's Social Care Services, is required.

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. Practitioners should seek advice from Children's Social Care Services if they have any concerns about sharing information with a child, young person and/or their family, or about consulting parents or carers before making a referral to Children's Social Care Services.

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

6.2 Referral

Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare should make a referral to Local Authority Children's Social Care Services in line with local procedures. (see Referrals Procedure).

The outcome of a referral will be:

  • That no further action is required;
  • A referral to another agency and/or provision of advice and information and/or an Early Help Assessment, with no further action required by Children's Social Care Services;
  • That the child appears to be a Child in Need and a Children's Social Care Single Assessment is required;
  • 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;
  • That emergency protective action should be taken to safeguard the child;

Where the child is already known to Children's Social Care Services, and the 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.

Children's Social Care Services will inform the local authority nominated Child Exploitation lead of all child exploitation contacts and referral outcomes in line with local procedures.

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 any action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child is required to be taken. For further guidance please see Child Protection Enquiries - Section 47 Children Act 1989 Procedure.

Children's Social Care Services will hold a Strategy Discussion with the Police, the referring agency (if different) and other relevant agencies, such as Health. 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 after the Strategy Discussion concerns remain about child exploitation, 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 Children's Social Care manager, 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 Procedure.

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

  • 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 an Initial 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 between the members of the Core group, about any further protective steps needed to ensure the safety of the child. The Chair of the Child Protection Conference must be advised and consulted. Consideration should be given to convene an early Review conference;
  • Concerns are not substantiated.

    Although the outcome of Section 47 Enquires may have deemed a child not to be at risk of suffering Significant Harm, a 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 an Early Help Assessment and/or intervention. Where no additional needs are identified, no further professional intervention will be required.

    The nominated local authority Child Exploitation lead 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, this may involve having to move them (and at times their family) to a safe place. Those working with children in these circumstances must never underestimate the power of those who exploit and abuse to locate a child, and in such circumstances children (and their families) will need practitioners (including carers) who are able to build and maintain meaningful trusting relationships.

A decision to place a child or young person in secure accommodation on welfare grounds, should only be considered in extreme circumstances, and will require careful consideration of the child's best interests. 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 and practitioners should recognise that there may be a strong bond between the child and a facilitator of exploitation and/or their abuser(s) and it may be difficult for the child to break relationships and contact. Importantly continued contact between a child /young person and their abuser(s) may continue and it is crucial that should this occur, it is not viewed by practitioners as a choice the child /young person is making. Any ongoing contact should be viewed and responded to with an informed understanding of the power dynamics that are present in abusive relationships and constrain 'choice'.

Any agency support and intervention should (wherever possible) be agreed and developed with the child and their family. This should include a trauma informed, strengths based approach and may extend to specialist therapeutic support, mentoring, support to assist a return to, or access to education, training or employment, outreach work, help to secure appropriate health services, access to safe accommodation or assistance to develop positive networks and activities.

The particular circumstances of the child (and their family) should be taken into account when developing the multi-agency response, and the plan for services should be tailored to meet their specific needs, e.g. whether the child is Looked After and/or preparing to leave care, not receiving a suitable education, reported as missing from home or care, has been trafficked, is an unaccompanied asylum seeking child and/or is a member of a gang.

Practitioners should help parents and carers to understand any risks to the child /young person from outside the home and with safety strategies.

Multi-agency intervention and support should take into account of wider environmental factors and locations and contexts that impact on a child's risk and vulnerability. Effective multi-agency safeguarding will therefore involve a wide range of partner agencies who could help reduce/prevent risk, and disrupt exploitation activity.

Safety mapping exercises which help practitioners to understand children and young people's experiences of places in which they feel safe and unsafe in, should be undertaken with children and young people, to support informed multi-agency planning and intervention.

All practitioners need to adopt a trusted adult relational approach when working with children and young people affected by exploitation. This may require a deviation from agency timeframes as building a meaningful trusting relationship can take time. Practitioners working with children and young people affected by exploitation should discuss this with their line managers, and record any agreement to deviate from agency standards and time frames. It is also important that front line workers supporting children and young people affected by exploitation receive reflective supervision and are supported in their work.

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 exploitation, and respond to and share information appropriately, in line with local protocols and procedures.

The child's Independent Reviewing Officer must be informed of any concerns relating to child exploitation or any other form of suspected abuse and consulted about any change in care planning or provision for the child.

6.8 National Referral Mechanism referrals

For all children assessed to have been exploited, a referral into the National Referral Mechanism must be considered by a 'First responder' in the local authority. Actions taken must be recorded on the child's file and shared with the local authority nominated lead for Child Exploitation.

7. Identifying, Disrupting and Prosecuting Perpetrators

Identifying, disrupting and prosecuting facilitators and perpetrators of child exploitation is key to safeguarding children and young people

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, or working with a child who is suspected to be vulnerable to exploitation, or is known to be being exploited, should gather, record and share information.

Intelligence information can be shared with the Police via the West Yorkshire Police Portal. This Partnership Intelligence Portal is a web based system that enables practitioners to submit intelligence to the West Yorkshire Police Central Intelligence Unit.

It is not designed to:

  • Replace any current referral/reporting mechanisms already in place;
  • Be used for crime reporting;
  • Or report anything that needs urgent Police response.

Any partner/organisation can be considered for access to the portal.

Click here to view the account request form.

Parents and carers should be encouraged and supported by practitioners to also collate and share information, ensuring that information is recorded in such a way that it can be used by the Crown Prosecution Service and accepted in Court.

It is vital that agencies and practitioners work together to deploy tactics to disrupt exploitation. Multi-agency intervention and planning should therefore give full consideration, to the full range of Disruption tactics as outlined in the Home Office child exploitation disruption toolkit.

When a child or young person has been assessed to be at risk of exploitation, or known to be being exploited, the Child Exploitation Information Report should be completed by agencies to record any new information. This must be shared, in accordance with local procedures with the Police district Safeguarding Team. This form should also be utilised to share information about suspected facilitators, perpetrators, activity or locations of concern.

Where a young person wishes to be and is able to be, part of a prosecution, it is essential that they (and where appropriate their family) are supported through the Criminal Justice process and beyond, until such a time that they identify that ongoing support is no longer required. See CPS Safeguarding Children as Victims and Witnesses.

7.1 Contextual Safeguarding and Mapping

Agencies can support the disruption and prosecution of facilitators and perpetrators by working together to undertake mapping exercises, to gain a shared understanding of friendships, associations, potential perpetrators and locations and contexts of concern. Child Exploitation multi-agency mapping exercises should be undertaken in accordance with local protocols and information sharing agreements.

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 facilitators and abusers and provides a powerful tool with which to groom, coerce, control and exploit children and young people.

Where text / instant messages are used for communication between a facilitator and/or an abuser and a child or young person, it can present significant access difficulties to investigating authorities seeking evidential material. However, telephone and internet communication can provide an valuable source of evidence which can assist in identifying those who exploit and abuse and children or young people previously unknown to be vulnerable or experiencing exploitation as well as helping to identify complex organised criminal activity, such as County Lines networks. It is therefore vital that professionals, parents and carers, gather as much information as possible which relates to mobile numbers, text communications and social networking contacts and forward these to the relevant Police departments /nominated person in the Police district, to assist in safeguarding children and young people from exploitation and achieve successful prosecutions of those who exploit and abuse.

Practitioners and professionals should know how to monitor online spaces and be prepared to request access reports where they are suspicious that exploitation is being facilitated online.