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Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Criminal exploitation Interface with Continuum of Need and Response Framework

1.What is Child Exploitation ?

  • Child 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 although 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 child 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)

Criminal Exploitation of children/ County Lines is defined as:

Child criminal exploitation is increasingly used to describe this type of exploitation where children are involved, and is defined as:

Child Criminal Exploitation is common in county lines and occurs 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. 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.

Criminal exploitation of children is broader than just county lines, and includes for instance children forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft.

The UK Government defines county lines as:

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.

2. Framework for Assessment and Response in Respect of Child 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 Child Exploitation (CE) is highly unlikely. This level refers to children and young people about whom there are no issues or concerns relating to CSE or CCE. 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 CCE and how to avoid them.

Level 2- Risk of harm from CE is unlikely. In these cases there will be evidence of some underlying risk factors associated with CE 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 CE is likely. 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 an Engage worker who will undertake an Exploitation 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, about whom there are concerns at this level, the child or young person's care plan should include a exploitation plan developed by the case-holding social worker in consultation with the Engage Team.

Level 4 - Risk or harm from CE is highly likely or is occurring. This category of risk will include children and young people who have disclosed victimisation from exploitation and/or where there is evidence or strong suspicion that exploitation is occurring.

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 significant harm, the appropriate response would be for an Initial Child Protection Conference to be convened in order to facilitate a multiagency 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, the Placement Plan must be amended and informed by the exploitation plan. A risk management meeting should be convened and chaired by a Service Leader.

In assessing whether a child or young person is a victim of sexual exploitation or criminal 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.
  • One of the key factors found in most cases of county lines exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange (e.g. carrying drugs in return for something).
  • Where it is the victim who is offered, promised or given something they need or want, the exchange can include both tangible (such as money, drugs or clothes) and intangible rewards (such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection).
  • It is important to remember the unequal power dynamic within which this exchange occurs and to remember that the receipt of something by a young person or vulnerable adult does not make them any less of a victim.
  • It is also important to note that the prevention of something negative can also fulfil the requirement for exchange, for example a young person who engages in county lines activity to stop someone carrying out a threat to harm his/her family

4. The Use of Professional Judgement Alongside Research Based Evidence

In a recent research study (Brown et al, 2016), identified many issues with the tools and checklists used throughout England and Wales to identify young people at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE): in particular, that risk indicators varied considerably across the large number of tools being used. Serious concerns that some indicators were actual signs of sexual abuse and exploitation rather than risk of abuse. The threshold for being identified as a potential victim was very high in some tools, resulting in differences in practice and responses across local authorities and agencies.

The study builds directly on that previous study, exploring the use of screening and risk assessment tools relating to CSE in England and Wales with professional groups who currently use such tools.

Professional judgement should be encouraged, not only in the tools/checklists and associated guidance/training, but also in the processes and procedures in which the tools/checklists are embedded.

Narrative information should be collected, so that all professionals involved in assessment or later processes can be clear about the nature of the risk and protective indicators identified.

Tools/checklists designed to assess potential risk of harm should not include actual indicators of harm. If it were likely that indicators of harm will be identified in assessments using the tool, then separating actual indicators of harm from risk and protective indicators would enable the clearer identification of victims from potential victims, and enable the most appropriate responses to follow the assessments.

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.

Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, county lines exploitation:

  • Can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years;
  • Can affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years;
  • Can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual;
  • Can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults;
  • Is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

6. The Engage Team – Blackburn with Darwen's Dedicated Child 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 was initially 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 and child criminal exploitation, Missing from Home (MFH) Return Home Interviews (RHIs) and subsequent risk reduction plans have also been completed by the Engage Team.

In February 2019 the Children's Commissioner for England published a review on the current national and local safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation. In this review there were some valuable insights the review has been able to gather about the 'disposable' attitude towards victims (children and vulnerable adults; risks towards family members) from their perpetrators in this type of safeguarding risk.

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) guidance outlines the service expectation from all partners:

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. Children who may be alleged perpetrators should also be assessed to understand the impact of contextual issues on their safety and welfare. Interventions should focus on addressing the wider environmental factors, they should look at the parental capacity to support the child, including helping the parents and carers to understand the risks.

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 (currently two part time posts job share), a Deputy Team Manager, six young person's workers and a MFH worker; all employed by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council;
  • A Detective Inspector, two Detective Sergeants, five Detective Constables, a Police Constable, a Missing From Home Co-ordinator from Lancashire Constabulary and an Intelligence Researcher/Administrator;
  • Two Specialist Nurses funded by the Clinical Commissioning Group;
  • A Parenting Support Worker from Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE).


Engage via partnership working with further adolescent services, seeks to identify children and young people vulnerable to Child Exploitation before the abuse takes place. Awareness work is delivered to children's services and wider partners to ensure that the early identification of vulnerabilities is recognised by Engage workers, multiagency partners, and parents/carers. The early identification is successful in the prevention of the child experiencing harm through being exploited.

The value of the prevention/early intervention work undertaken at Engage has become more evident over time in reducing the escalation of children needing protection. The Engage partnership remains committed to the prevention agenda.


Following a thorough Exploitation assessment by the Engage team, a multi-agency support/risk management plan is agreed for all referrals. This ensures that the appropriate partners undertake the set tasks assigned to them.

A young person's worker intensively supports each child on a one-to-one basis.

Health assessments are facilitated by the Engage specialist nurses and where sexual health is highlighted as an area of concern the young person is signposted and supported to access Brook sexual health and wellbeing service.

Co-located police officers lead on 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 Exploitation. The whole team approach assists the identification of perpetrators, gangs and other people who potentially leave children and young people vulnerable to Child 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 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 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 Exploitation both within the community and amongst partner agencies through delivery of awareness raising 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 exploitation or where children have suffered abuse as a result of being victims of Child Exploitation;
  • To ensure a reduction in the level of risk for children vulnerable to Child Exploitation;
  • To disrupt the activity of perpetrators of Child Exploitation, via proactive policing;
  • To prosecute perpetrators of Child Exploitation;
  • To provide accurate data and statistics relating to the exploitation of children and young people to allow 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 Child Exploitation are received into Children's Social Care through CADS – See Blackburn with Darwen Children's Advice and Duty Service (CADS) Practice Guidance and Serious Incident Notifications to Ofsted Flowchart - to follow.

When there is current Social Care involvement – if a member of staff parent or foster carer is concerned that a child or young person is involved in, or at risk of, child exploitation, they should contact the allocated social worker, or in their absence the social work Team Manager. This contact should take place 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 directly 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 child exploitation then they should discuss the concerns with their manager and liaise with the Engage Team Manager and agree next steps, see Co-Working Protocol for Cases where there are Concerns Regarding Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) or Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE).

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 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 child exploitation.

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 high schools within BwD offering advice and information in respect of child exploitation concerns and issues.

Missing from Home episodes and Return Home Interviews are also recorded on the main Children's Social Care MIS.

10.1 Young People's Workers

The young people's workers are responsible for managing a caseload – skills within this role include completing analytical Child Exploitation assessments, delivering trauma-informed direct work interventions and also Return Home Interviews with children and young people who have been missing from home when appropriate. Young people's workers are also linked to all secondary schools in Blackburn with Darwen ensuring all secondary schools have a named worker within Engage who they can directly contact for advice and guidance. Young people's workers also deliver awareness raising sessions to key partners.

10.2 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. CANW offer return home interviews to Blackburn with Darwen children and young people that are placed out of borough.

10.3 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 assist and input in the formulation of a risk assessment for a young person and establish appropriate packages of health care 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 CE, by ensuring current guidance and recommendations are implemented in frontline practice.

11. Children and Young People who go Missing

A significant number of children and young people who are being exploited may go missing from home (MFH), or care and education. Some go missing frequently; the more often they go missing the more vulnerable they are to being exploited. See CADs Processes for Missing From Home Notifications and Practice Guidance.

Independent Return Home Interviews (RHI) 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 Exploitation and consequently contribute to the risk management plan. If the young person who has been missing is already open to The Engage Team, the RHI will be offered by either the missing from home worker or the Engage worker dependent on who is likely to achieve the best interview with the young person.

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 CE across the Partnership.

Ultimately, the team and partners report to the Safeguarding Children Partnership.

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

This meeting is chaired by the Engage Inspector. It brings together the partners working within or attached to the Engage Team (CSC, the police, PACE, health) in order to share information and intelligence and identify action planning in respect of the young people open to Engage who are considered at high risk of experiencing exploitation and the associated perpetrators.

Engage Team Briefs - held on a daily basis

The daily brief is chaired by either the Engage police or BwD staff. The brief discusses any Police Safeguarding Referrals (PSR) and Police incident reports relating to children where there may be a child exploitation risk, any children currently MFH and the outcome of significant return home interviews. Intelligence gathered relating to victims, perpetrators or hot-spots are shared within the team during this meeting. New referrals are discussed to alert all partners and any important updates are shared.

Meetings across the Continuum of Need and Response

The Engage Team work across the continuum offering advice and guidance at level 1and 2 and case hold at level 3 and 4 of the continuum. Engage young people's workers attend all meetings held in respect of the young person open to the team. Children's Social Care or other professionals can also request Engage attend strategy discussions or relevant meetings where there is a concern that exploitation may be an issue at any stage on the continuum.

Trix procedures

Only valid for 48hrs