View the Pan Lancashire SCB Manual
View the Pan Lancashire SCB Manual View the Pan Lancashire SCB Manual

1.2.3 Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation


1. What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)?
2. Framework for Assessment and Response in Respect of Child Sexual Exploitation
3. Consent
4. Indicators of Possible Child Sexual Exploitation
5. Vulnerable Groups
6. The Engage Team – Blackburn with Darwen’s Dedicated Child Sexual Exploitation Team
  6.1 History
  6.2 Operating Model
7. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators
8. Expected Outcomes of the Engage Team
9. Referring Cases of Concern
10. Roles and Responsibilities
  10.1 Engage Social Worker
  10.2 Young People’s Workers
  10.3 Missing from Home Worker
  10.4 Health Practitioners
11. Children and Young People who go Missing
12. Governance Arrangements

1. What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)?

  • Child sexual exploitation is child abuse;
  • Victimisation is not age or gender specific – children of all ethnic origins and social classes are equally vulnerable;
  • Abusers can be of either gender and though they are usually adults, they can be other children and young people;
  • Even when they appear to be ‘willing victims’, young people involved in exploitative relationships are not exercising unfortunate life choices, they are children in need of protection;
  • A finding that a child is the victim of sexual exploitation does not require evidence of parental abuse or neglect.

The sexual exploitation of children 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.
(Working Together to Safeguard Children)

2. Framework for Assessment and Response in Respect of Child Sexual Exploitation

The “risk sensible” model identifies four levels of likelihood of harm which are aligned with the four levels of response on the Continuum of Need and Response (CoNR). The same model is equally applicable to the assessment and management of CSE concerns.

Level 1 - Risk of harm from CSE is highly unlikely. This level refers to children and young people about whom there are no issues or concerns relating to CSE. It also refers to children and young people who have been exploited in the past but who have exited exploitation and are considered to be no longer at risk. The needs of these children and young people can be met by universal services through the provision of information about the risks and dangers associated with CSE and how to avoid them.

Level 2- Risk of harm from CSE is unlikely. In these cases there will be evidence of some underlying risk factors associated with CSE which require early intervention to prevent escalation. This category will also include children and young people who have formerly been at higher levels of risk but these have been reduced and there is evidence of improved protective factors. The appropriate response for children and young people at this level of concern is targeted support through the development of a Child and Family Assessment (CAF) facilitated by an appropriate professional.

Level 3 - Risk of harm from CSE is likely. At this level there will be evidence of a greater number of underlying risk factors and some concerns that these are approaching the high risk indicator level. Concerns at this level should be addressed initially through the commencement of a Child and Family assessment under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 which will be undertaken by a social worker alongside and Engage worker who will undertake a CSE risk assessment which will inform the Child and Family Assessment. The Engage worker will contribute to the support package for the young person which will be delivered through a Child in Need (CIN) plan. For Looked After Children (LAC), about whom there are concerns at this level, the child or young person’s care plan should include a CSE plan developed by the case-holding social worker in consultation with the CSE Team.

Level 4 - Risk or harm from CSE is highly likely. This category of risk will include children and young people who have disclosed victimisation from exploitation and/or where there is evidence of one or more high risk indicators associated with CSE.

The appropriate response at this level of concern is initially for a Child and Family assessment to be undertaken regarding the child or young person, as result of a Section 47 enquiry. The strategy meeting preceding this assessment must include contributions from the Police and Engage Team. If the outcome of the Section 47 enquiry substantiates abuse, the appropriate response would be for an Initial Child Protection Conference to be convened in order to facilitate a multi-agency decision as to whether the child or young person should become the subject of a child protection plan. This would involve the case being held by a Social Worker from the Children’s Safeguarding Team with an Engage team member as part of the Core Group.

If concerns at this level emerge in relation to a Looked After Child (LAC), the placement plan must be amended and informed by the CSE plan. A risk management meeting should be convened and chaired by a Service Leader.

3. Consent

In assessing whether a child or young person is a victim of sexual exploitation, or at risk, careful consideration should be given to the issue of consent. It is important to bear in mind that:

  • A child under the age of 13 is not legally capable of consenting to sex (it is statutory rape) or any other type of sexual touching;
  • Sexual activity with a child under 16 is also an offence;
  • It is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them;
  • Where sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old does not result in an offence being committed, it may still result in harm, or the likelihood of harm being suffered;
  • Non-consensual sex is rape whatever the age of the victim; and
  • If the victim is incapacitated through drink or drugs, or the victim or his or her family has been subject to violence or the threat of it, they cannot be considered to have given true consent; therefore offences may have been committed;
  • Child Sexual Exploitation is therefore potentially a child protection issue for all children under the age of 18 years and not just those in a specific age group.

4. Indicators of Possible Child Sexual Exploitation

High Risk Indicators

(Those factors which by their presence constitute a risk of CSE)

  • Direct disclosure of victimisation by a child or young person;
  • Peer group relationship with other young people Known or strongly suspected to be involved with CSE;
  • Associating with adults known or strongly suspected of CSE perpetration;
  • Being found in places where CSE is known or strongly suspected to occur;
  • Gang related activity where CSE is known or strongly suspected;
  • Repeat sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations;
  • Change in physical appearance or dressing in a more sexualised way;
  • Receipt of gifts from unknown sources;
  • Child has two or more mobile phones that cannot be accounted for;
  • Child has funds for drugs, alcohol, clothing, gifts and unexpected items;
  • Recruiting others into exploitative situations;
  • Child or young person feeling forced, possibly through threats, to engage in sexting/online chat/sending receiving images / performing sexual acts online;
  • Frequent and/or lengthy periods of missing from home.

Underlying Risk Factors

(Those factors often associated with CSE but which in themselves do not constitute a risk of CSE).

  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance misuse, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, parental criminality);
  • Regularly coming home late / going missing;
  • History of abuse (including familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of honour-based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect);
  • Bereavement or loss;
  • Unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose sexual orientation to their families;
  • Abandoned/estranged from family and/or homeless, living in hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation;
  • Child associates with older friends who engage in risk taking behaviours and appears easily influenced;
  • Low self-esteem / negative sense of self;
  • Emotional and/or mental health difficulties;
  • Truanting or more regular non-school attendance;
  • Drug and/or alcohol use;
  • Secretive use of mobile phones / internet / sexting;
  • Sexual activity at an early age;
  • Change in behaviour – could be positive or negative;
  • Diversity needs unmet;
  • Child engaging in sexting/online chat/sending receiving images / performing sexual acts on line.

N.B. While one underlying risk factor does not, in itself, constitute a risk, the greater the number of such factors that are present (particularly the more sexual ones), the greater the likelihood that CSE is a feature.

5. Vulnerable Groups

Engage delivers structured training and awareness raising sessions to staff working directly with vulnerable children and young people. Research suggests that there are two main groups of children and young people who are particularly vulnerable to CSE:

  1. Children and young people in residential care;
  2. Children and young people who are disabled.

However, there are a number of other groups of children and young people whose circumstances make them also particularly vulnerable:

  • Children and young people with complex needs;
  • Children and young people who are Looked After (including those in foster care);
  • Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC);
  • Children and young people who go missing from home;
  • Children and young people who are involved in gangs and groups.

6. The Engage Team – Blackburn with Darwen’s Dedicated Child Sexual Exploitation Team

6.1 History

Concerns about Child Sexual Exploitation in Blackburn with Darwen were highlighted in 2005 when Children’s Homes reported a large increase in children going missing. It was known that some of these young people were being sexually exploited. The response was a joint Police and Children’s Services operation called ‘Operation Engage’ that went on to become our multi-agency CSE Team.

The Engage Team was established in 2008 under the direction of the Blackburn with Darwen Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). Engage is a multi-agency, co-located specialist Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Team. The agreed safeguarding model is rooted within early identification of risk, focussing on the protection of children. Invariably this is achieved through support to children and carers and the prosecution of offenders when appropriate.

Since 2014, as a result of recognising the importance of children going missing from home as an indicator to vulnerability to Child Sexual Exploitation, Missing from Home (MFH) Return Home Interviews (RHIs) and subsequent risk reduction plans have also been completed by the Engage Team.

6.2 Operating Model

Engage co-ordinates and tasks its work from a central, co-located, multi-agency setting which is based at Greenbank Police Station in Blackburn. In addition there are many other partners that contribute to the effectiveness of service delivery either through appropriate sharing of information or attendance at appropriate meetings. These partners include: the Youth Justice Service, Brook, Go 2 and Inspire (substance misuse services), Young People’s Services, Prince’s Trust, Housing support services and Children’s Social Care.

The co-located team consists of:

  • A Team Manager, a social worker, three young person’s workers and a part time MFH worker; all employed by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council;
  • A Detective Inspector, a Detective Sergeant, seven Detective Constables, a Missing From Home Co-ordinator from Lancashire Constabulary and an Intelligence Researcher;
  • Two Specialist Nurses funded by the Clinical Commissioning Group;
  • A Parenting Support Worker from Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE).


Engage via partnership working, seeks to identify children and young people vulnerable to Child Sexual Exploitation before the abuse takes place. Awareness work is delivered to ensure that the early identification of vulnerabilities as identified by Engage and partners, including parents, is successful in preventing escalation to an abusive relationship.

The value of the prevention/early intervention work undertaken at Engage has become more evident over time, with the majority of young people not requiring support following identification of vulnerabilities, therefore stopping escalation to exploitation and need of protection. The Engage partnership remains committed to the prevention agenda.


Following a thorough CSE assessment by the Engage team, a multi-agency support/risk management plan is agreed for all referrals. This ensures that the appropriate partners undertake their correct role. Each child is intensively supported on a one-to-one basis by a young person’s worker. Health assessments are facilitated by the specialist nurses and where sexual health is an issue the young person is signposted and supported to access Brook. Co-located police officers lead the prosecution of perpetrators. Witness support is provided to both the child (from the young person’s worker at Engage) and the parent (via the support worker from PACE) during a trial process.

Engage works across the Continuum of Need and Response, therefore allowing for interface with statutory social work services as appropriate. Children’s Social Care is the lead agency where the Child in Need or Child Protection threshold has been met.


The Engage Team recognises the importance of the pursuit, disruption and prosecution of perpetrators of Child Sexual Exploitation. The whole team approach assists the identification of perpetrators, gangs and other people who potentially leave children and young people vulnerable to Child Sexual Exploitation, in addition to highlighting locations, patterns and vehicles. The Engage Team work collaboratively to ensure all of these strands are tackled together to reduce the risk of Child Sexual Exploitation.

7. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators

The police and criminal justice agencies lead on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators. All practitioners, however, have a role in gathering, recording and sharing information with the police and other agencies, as appropriate and in agreement with them.

All professionals should bear in mind that child sexual exploitation often does not occur in isolation and has links to other crime types, including:

  • Child trafficking (into, out of and within the UK);
  • Domestic Violence and Abuse;
  • Sexual violence in intimate relationships;
  • Grooming (both online and offline);
  • Abusive images of children and their distribution (organised abuse);
  • Organised sexual abuse of children;
  • Drugs-related offences (dealing, consuming and cultivating);
  • Gang-related activity;
  • Immigration-related offences;
  • Modern slavery.

8. Expected Outcomes of the Engage Team

  • To raise awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation both within the community and among partner agencies through delivery of sessions held for children, families and professionals and elected members;
  • To reduce the number of children missing from home or care;
  • To provide support to children, families & carers where there is risk of child sexual abuse or where children have suffered sexual abuse as a result of being victims of Child Sexual Exploitation; 
  • To ensure a reduction in the level of risk for children vulnerable to Child Sexual Exploitation;
  • To disrupt the activity of perpetrators of Child Sexual Exploitation, via proactive policing;
  • To prosecute perpetrators of Child Sexual Exploitation;
  • To provide accurate data and statistics relating to the sexual exploitation of children and young people to allow for proactive work to prevent, protect and pursue.

9. Referring Cases of Concern

Where there is no current Social Care involvement, all referrals in respect of CSE are received into Children’s Social Care through the MASH – See Blackburn with Darwen Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) Practice Guidance and Serious Incident Notifications to Ofsted Flowchart.

When there is current Social Care involvement – if a member of staff or foster carer is concerned that a child or young person is involved in, or at risk of, child sexual exploitation, they should contact the allocated social worker, or in their absence the social work Team Manager at the earliest opportunity in order that prompt liaison with the Engage Team can be undertaken. Where there are immediate concerns for safety, or it is thought that there has been or there is risk of a crime being committed, staff or foster carers should also contact the police.

Where an allocated social worker has concerns that a child that they are working with is at risk of or is a victim of CSE then they should discuss the concerns with their manager who will in turn liaise with the Engage Team Manager and agree next steps, see BwD Co-Working Protocol for Cases Held Between Children’s Services and Engage.

10. Roles and Responsibilities

The members of the Engage Team work alongside social workers and other professionals to safeguard and support children and young people who are experiencing or at risk of child sexual exploitation. The Engage Team work directly with children and young people using person centred and evidence based approaches and tools in order to build trusting relationships with the ultimate aim being to reduce the risk of CSE.

In addition, the Engage Team delivers a range of training and awareness raising sessions to a variety of partners, agencies, professionals, children and young people and parents/carers. They also provide a named link to schools with regard to offering advice and information in respect of CSE concerns and issues.

In 2015, the partnership invested in a new system for recording the work undertaken by the service with children and young people vulnerable to Child Sexual Exploitation - a separate workspace within the main Children’s Social Care MIS. The Children’s Social Care MIS is also used for recording missing from home episodes and return home interviews.

All of the work and involvement undertaken by the Engage Team is recorded on a separate CSE workspace within the main Children’s Social Care MIS. Missing from Home episodes and Return Home Interviews are also recorded on the main Children’s Social Care MIS.

10.1 Engage Social Worker

In addition to completing CSE assessments and managing a caseload, the social worker from the Engage Team, spends time in MASH on a daily basis in order to support the screening of new referrals in respect of CSE and to manage new missing from home incidents. The social worker completes all return home interviews on any child who does not have an active social worker in order to assess any safeguarding issues but with a clear consideration for any risk of CSE. For any referral where there may be more clarity needed regarding CSE the social worker may do a home visit or seek to gather information from wider sources to allow a threshold decision to be made. Should the concerns not warrant intervention from the Engage Team, the social worker has good links with partner agencies to whom she can signpost in order to complete preventative and awareness raising work with children and young people.

10.2 Young People’s Workers

The young people’s workers are responsible for managing a caseload, completing CSE assessments and Return Home Interviews with children and young people who have been missing from home.

10.3 Missing from Home Worker

The Missing from Home worker is responsible for undertaking Return Home Interviews with children and young people who have been missing from home or care.

10.4 Health Practitioners

There are currently two Specialist Nurses in post within the Engage Team for Blackburn with Darwen (BwD) and East Lancashire. The purpose of the role is to assess, plan, implement and evaluate packages of health care and support for children and young people experiencing, or at risk of, CSE, in relation to their health and safeguarding needs. Part of the Specialist Nurse role is to provide leadership and develop good practice across the health economy with regards to the response to CSE, by ensuring current guidance and recommendations are implemented in frontline practice. All health assessments completed by the CSE nurses for young people open to the Engage Team are inputted onto the Children’s Social Care MIS system and are considered in the CSE assessment and Child and Family assessment.

11. Children and Young People who go Missing

A significant number of children and young people who are being sexually exploited may go missing from home or care, and education. Some go missing frequently; the more often they go missing the more vulnerable they are to being sexually exploited. See Pan Lancs Protocol for Children Who Run Away or go Missing From Home or Care. See also MASH Processes for Missing From Home Notifications and Practice Guidance. Note: Return interviews for children who run away or go missing from care.

Independent Return Interviews with the child or young person can help in establishing why they went missing and the subsequent support that may be required, as well as preventing repeat incidents. Information gathered from return interviews can be used to inform the identification of risk and/or evidence of Child Sexual Exploitation and consequently contribute to the risk management plan.

All children who have a missing from home episode are offered a return home interview from a member of the Engage Team within 72 hours of returning (unless there are specific reasons they should not be).

12. Governance Arrangements

There are a range of meetings in place to monitor and develop the role of the Engage Team and subsequent outcomes for Children and Young People in addition to continually strengthening the approach to CSE across the Partnership. Ultimately, the team and partners report to the Child Sexual Exploitation and Missing from Home Sub Committee of the LSCB which is chaired by the Chair of the LSCB. Schedule of meetings in relation to CSE and MFH are as follows:

LSCB CSE & MFH Sub - Committee - held on a quarterly basis

It brings together key partners to provide strategic and operational oversight to tackling CSE and MFH. Due to the related nature of E-Safeguarding and Trafficking (Modern Slavery) with the CSE & MFH themes, E-Safeguarding and Trafficking (Modern Slavery) strategic and operational assurance will also be covered by the committee.

Engage Partnership Meeting - held on a quarterly basis

The Engage Partnership Meeting is chaired by the Children’s Social Care Service Lead for Assessment and Social Work, MASH and Engage. It brings together key partners to provide a forum in which strategic and operational information and intelligence can be shared to enable a proactive approach to safeguarding children and young people who are at risk of or experiencing Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), those who go Missing from Home (MFH) and those who are trafficked.

Multi-Agency Child Sexual Exploitation Meeting (MACSE) – held on a monthly basis

This meeting is chaired by the Engage Inspector or Children’s Social Care Service Lead for Assessment and Social Work, MASH and Engage. It brings together the partners working within or attached to the Engage Team (CSC, the police, PACE, health, Brook, Prince’s Trust and YJT) in order to share information and intelligence and identify action planning in respect of the young people who are open to Engage and the associated perpetrators.

Engage Team Briefs - held on a daily basis

The daily brief is chaired by either the police or BwD staff. The brief discusses any Protection Vulnerable People reports (PVP) relating to children where there may be a CSE risk, any children currently MFH and the outcome of return home interviews. Intelligence gathered relating to victims, perpetrators or hot-spots are shared within the team. New referrals are discussed to alert all partners and any important updates are shared.

The Engage Team practitioners also attend other relevant Child Protection, Child in Need and CAF meetings in respect of the young people they are working with.