Child Sexual Exploitation


In October 2023, this chapter was updated as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 has extended the definition of Position of Trust within the Sexual Offences Act 2003 section 22A to include anyone who coaches, teaches, trains, supervises or instructs a child under 18, on a regular basis, in a sport or a religion.

1. Definition

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse:

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse. Sexual abuse can take place online, and technology can be used to facilitate offline abuse. Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children (Working Together to Safeguard Children).

Child sexual exploitation takes many different forms. It can include contact and non-contact sexual activities and can occur online or in person, or a combination of each. 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).

What marks out sexual exploitation from other forms of child sexual abuse is the presence of some form of exchange, for the victim and/or perpetrator or facilitator. It is critical to remember the unequal power dynamic within which this exchange occurs and to remember that the receipt of something by a child/young person does not make them any less of a victim. It is also important to note that the prevention of something negative happening can also fulfil the requirement for exchange.

The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, sexual identity, intellect, physical strength, status and access to economic or other resources.

Child sexual exploitation is never the victim's fault, even if there is some form of exchange: all children and young people under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and should be protected from harm.

2. Who is at Risk?

Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances. Child sexual exploitation can occur in all communities and amongst all social groups and can affect girls and boys. Young people can also be sexually exploited by other young people. All practitioners should work on the basis that it is happening in their area.

Sexual exploitation causes harm to children and young people, including significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for their family, including siblings (who may also be at risk of abuse).

Sexual exploitation has links with other forms of crime, for example, domestic violence and abuse, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children, criminal exploitation and child trafficking. The perpetrators of sexual exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They may target areas where children and young people gather, use parties to create networks for abuse or use technology to organise both online and offline abuse.

Children and young people can be moved from one place to another to be sexually exploited. They can also be sexually exploited by people with whom they feel they have a relationship, e.g. a boyfriend / girlfriend. In these circumstances there may be an overlap with other forms of abuse, and practitioners should decide on the best way to work with the child to keep them safe.

When working with children who are being sexually exploited, it is important to consider who else in their circle of contacts (including siblings) may also be at risk.

When children experience, or are at risk of, sexual exploitation the relationship between their needs and vulnerabilities, the harm they are experiencing and the risk posed by the abuser(s) can create a dynamic and complex situation for the child and the practitioner. It is important that practitioners receive the supervision, support and training required to work with the child and that leaders and managers provide effective oversight and supervision of frontline practice.

3. Indicators

Anyone who has regular contact with children is in a good position to notice the changes in behaviour and physical signs that may indicate involvement in sexual exploitation. It is important to try and identify children at risk of harm from sexual exploitation at the earliest opportunity.

Some children may be more vulnerable, for example, children with special needs, those in residential or foster care, those leaving care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, victims of forced marriage and those involved in gangs, but all children are potentially at risk and practitioners should be careful about making assumptions as to who the victims or perpetrators may be.

Identifying cases of child sexual exploitation is a difficult task, children rarely self-report that they are being sexually exploited, and due to the nature of the grooming methods used by their abusers, often do not recognise that they are being abused. Once they are being sexually exploited, threats from their abusers and fear of repercussions or being partly blamed for their own abuse can make it difficult for young people to seek help.

There is a risk that well-publicised criminal trials can lead to stereotyping of people who may be at risk of child sexual exploitation and prevent the identification of victims. All children are at risk, and for some children there may be additional barriers to them disclosing abuse or seeking help, including young people who identify as LGBTQ+, boys and young men, children and young people with a disability or those from BME communities.

Practitioners should be aware of the key indicators of child sexual exploitation. More importantly, they should also remain open to the fact that child sexual exploitation can occur without any of the following risk indicators being obviously present:

  • Unexplained money or gifts;
  • Going missing (for short or long periods), or during the course of the school day;
  • Being distressed or withdrawn on return;
  • Disengaging from existing social networks;
  • Secrecy around new associations;
  • Additional mobile phones or concerning use of technology;
  • Sexual health problems/ unplanned pregnancies;
  • Disclosure of rape/sexual assault (and reluctance to report);
  • Changes in temperament/emotional wellbeing;
  • Drug or alcohol misuse;
  • Involvement in criminal activity;
  • Secretive behaviour;
  • Unexplained physical injuries.

These indicators are not exclusive to child sexual exploitation. Some may be explained by normal adolescent development and associated changes in behaviour; some might be explained by other types of abuse including that the child is being criminally exploited.

While the presence of a number of these indicators should prompt questions around the possibility of child sexual exploitation, practitioners should remain open to the potential for other explanations and be curious about what is happening in the child's world. Children will often demonstrate their distress through external behaviours as a way of communicating to the outside world that something is wrong.

Sometimes, particularly with boys, this distress may be displayed through aggressive, harmful or challenging behaviour in school or at home including, running away, misusing substances or displaying harmful sexual behaviour. Young people's offending behaviour should be understood in the context of wider issues and experiences, such as previous abuse or trauma, which may include experiences of being subject to child sexual exploitation and/or exploiting other children.

Many children and young people are groomed into sexually exploitative relationships. Some young people may be sexually exploited through informal economies that involve the exchange of sex for rewards such as drugs, alcohol, money, gifts or accommodation. Often young people are bullied, coerced and threatened into sexual activities by peers or gang members and this is then used against them as a form of extortion and to keep them compliant.

The College of Policing identifies a number of methods which are used by abusers to coerce a child:

  • Giving presents – especially during the grooming phase;
  • Offering food treats;
  • Giving rewards such as mobile phone top-ups / credit;
  • Giving the child or young person attention;
  • Offering false promises of love and/or affection;
  • Offering false promises of opportunities – e.g. modelling, photography, acting;
  • Supplying alcohol;
  • Drugs – either supplying drugs to facilitate exploitation, and/or young person being sexually exploited as a means of paying off drug debt;
  • Constructing situations whereby a young person must pay off debt;
  • Mental manipulation;
  • Blackmail;
  • Fear;
  • Physical violence.

Grooming is rarely a linear process, and the methods used by abusers will vary considerably both in the time they take to groom children and in the tactics they use in order facilitate the abuse. Some of these methods are also used in other forms of child exploitation.

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.

A child cannot consent to their own abuse. 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 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. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 has extended the definition of Position of Trust within the Sexual Offences Act 2003 section 22A to include anyone who coaches, teaches, trains, supervises or instructs a child under 18, on a regular basis, in a sport or a religion. It is against the law for someone in a position of trust to engage in sexual activity with a child in their care, even if that child is over the age of consent (16 or over);
  • 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;
  • If the victim is incapacitated through drink or drugs, or the victim or their 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.

Practitioners must also consider other factors which might influence the ability of the person to give consent, e.g. learning disability / mental ill health.

Although they may sometimes appear to be making an informed choice, young people cannot and do not 'choose' abuse or exploitation. Recognising the underlying factors that can exacerbate risk will help practitioners understand and interpret apparent 'choices' and avoid the danger of apportioning blame.

5. Online Child Sexual Exploitation

Online child sexual exploitation can be particularly challenging to identify and respond to. Technology allows perpetrators to be in contact with multiple potential victims at any one time. It also offers a perception of anonymity, for both children and young people and perpetrators, making it easier to say and do things online that they wouldn't do offline. This eases the grooming process and facilitates more rapid sexualisation of perpetrator approaches to potential victims.

Where exploitation does occur online (through the exchange of sexual communication or images, for example) these can be quickly and easily shared with others. This makes it difficult to contain the potential for further abuse and presents significant challenges around content removal. Online abuse is further complicated by the fact that it can transcend national borders.

See the Online Safety Procedure or contact CEOP for more information. Follow the Referral Procedure if you are concerned a child is at risk of harm.

With effect from 29 June 2021, section 69 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 expanded so-called 'revenge porn' to include threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.

6. Child on Child Abuse

"child-on-child abuse is any form of physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and coercive control exercised between children, and within children's relationships (both intimate and non-intimate), friendships, and wider peer associations.

child-on-child abuse can take various forms, including (but not limited to): serious bullying (including cyberbullying), relationship abuse, domestic violence and abuse, child sexual exploitation, youth and serious youth violence, harmful sexual behaviour and/or prejudice-based violence including, but not limited to, gender-based violence.

Online child-on-child abuse is any form of child-on-child abuse with a digital element, for example, sexting, online abuse, coercion and exploitation, child-on-child grooming, threatening language delivered via online means, the distribution of sexualised content, and harassment."
(Child on Child Abuse Toolkit - Farrer & Co).

It is important to consider the context in which any child-on-child abuse is taking place, as this will inform the best to approach working with and supporting the child. You may need to refer to guidance on other forms of abuse such as domestic violence and abuse, harmful sexual behaviour, involvement in gangs and criminal exploitation.

The Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted) identified substantial levels of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse for both girls (90%) and boys (nearly 50%). Significantly, this did not always appear to be recognised by the school or college. Sometimes sexual bullying in schools and other social settings can lead to the sexual exploitation of young people by their peers, or young women and young men who have themselves been exploited can be coerced into recruiting other young people to be abused.

Sexual exploitation also occurs within and between street gangs, where sex is used in exchange for safety, protection, drugs and simply belonging. This can result in children both experiencing child sexual exploitation and perpetrating it at the same time. Children who perpetrate child sexual exploitation require a different response to adult perpetrators. They should be referred to Children's Social Care Services and a multi-agency Strategy Meeting convened to consider both their involvement as a potential perpetrator but also any abuse and unmet needs they may have experienced themselves (see Harmful Sexual Behaviour Procedure).

7. Children and Young People who go Missing

A significant number of children and young people who are being sexually exploited may go missing from care, home, and education. Some go missing frequently; the more often children go missing the more vulnerable they are to being sexually exploited or other forms of exploitation including criminal exploitation.

If a child does go missing, the Children Who Go Missing from Home and Care Protocol should be followed.

8. Protection and Action to be Taken

Whenever a practitioner has concerns that a child or young person is being sexually exploited, or is at risk of sexual exploitation, they should contact Children's Social Care and follow the Referrals Procedure.

If you are worried about a child or a young person under the age of 18, you should contact the NYC Children and Families Service. If your concern is outside of normal office hours, you should contact the Emergency Duty Team 0300 131 2 131.

In an emergency, always ring 999

You should call 101 to report crime and other concerns that do not require an emergency response.

Caption: Referral flow diagram
Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) - Referral flow diagram


Practitioners identify risk posed to the child consult the NYSCP Framework for decision-making: Right help, at the right time by the right person:

Practitioners can send intelligence or make a referral:
Down arrow Down arrow


Information should only be shared regarding perpetrators and/or community intelligence.

If there is any information regarding specific/named child then it should be coming in through the referral route.

If there is an immediate risk to a child/children, member of the public you should call the NY Police on 999.

NY Police Partnership Information Sharing form will enable North Yorkshire Police to track intelligence and may use this information to undertake any Police enquiries as necessary.

Information being shared internally within North Yorkshire Police, follow internal procedures and pass to the Vulnerability Assessment team:


Where a child is at risk of significant harm (s.47) an immediate referral to the police or NYC Children and Families Service should be made. A child or young person who is in need of support or requires other prevention services the practitioner should follow their agency's procedures to determine if a referral is required to NYC Children and Families Service.

Where there is a concern relating to a child at risk of CSE or subject of CSE (irrespective of whether it hits the significant harm threshold) a referral is required as below.

Discuss the concerns with the designated safeguarding lead and determine if a referral is required to:

NYC Children and Families Service

T: 0300 131 2 131

Referral Form to Children and Families Service:
Down arrow

NYC MAST will screen the referral and will determine the level of support and next steps required for the referral.

Following the referral, a thorough risk assessment will be undertaken by Children and Families Service in conjunction with partners using the Child Exploitation risk assessment.

9. Contextual Safeguarding

In 2018 the term "Contextual Safeguarding" was inserted into Working Together to Safeguard Children as well as Keeping Children Safe in Education. The Legal Framework for Implementing Contextual Safeguarding 2019 (Contextual Safeguarding Network/University of Bedford/Institute of Applied Social Research) document outlines current legal tools available for implementing Contextual Safeguarding as well as questions that emerged when trying to test the approach.

These documents have been used in order to develop and strengthen strategic and operational practice in North Yorkshire. We will build on the work undertaken to date and utilise the material referred to above to advance contextual safeguarding within North Yorkshire.

"Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people's experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people's experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships" (Firmin, 2017, 3)

Children and young people can be vulnerable to exploitation due to their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources as outlined in the definition provided above, as well as in some cases simply just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However there are certain vulnerabilities and indictors that may make children and young people more vulnerable to being targeted for exploitation. This is often linked to the environments within which they live or socialise. This is often referred to as contextual safeguarding and links not only to a child or young person's home environment, but also to their peer network, their school/educational environment and/or the neighbourhood within which they live.

Contextual Safeguarding was first introduced in 2015 to provide a framework for ensuring child protection systems were equipped to respond to abuse that children, particularly adolescents, are exposed to and/or experience in extra-familial settings. The work undertaken in partnership with practitioners by Firmin (2017b) identified four domains to describe child protection approaches that would engage with extrafamilial risk or abuse:

  • Target – the home, peer group, school, neighbourhood or online contexts where abuse occurs, through assessment and intervention, in addition to the individuals affected;
  • Do this within a Child Protection Legislative Framework – to ensure that the response is welfare led, is not necessarily triggered by, or dependent upon, a crime being committed or a criminal investigation being conducted;
  • Build partnerships with agencies who have a reach into extra-familial contexts – such as education, voluntary and community sector organisations, youth work, housing, retail, transport and licensing, in addition to children (particularly adolescents – as peers), and parents themselves;
  • Measure success by risk reducing in contexts of concern, not solely by a change in the behaviours of any individuals who have encountered or instigated abuse unsafe contexts.

The purpose of the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) and Contextual Safeguarding Level 2 process is to understand the contexts within local communities in which exploitation is occurring and to utilise the skills, knowledge and capabilities within our partnerships to tackle and disrupt the perpetrators of exploitation and create safe spaces for children and young people.

10. Transitional Safeguarding

Transitional Safeguarding is a term coined by Research in Practice following recognition of the need to improve the safeguarding responses for older teenagers and young adults. Research by Sawyer et al. 2018 identified emerging evidence that adolescence extends into the early/mid-twenties and children who are vulnerable to or being exploited at age 17 do not suddenly become less vulnerable the day they reach their 18th birthday. There is recognition that the support needs of those young people entering adulthood needs to be well planned and requires a fluid transition between child and adult services.

There is also emerging evidence that meeting the needs of adolescents and young adults more effectively early on, can significantly reduce the need for costly later interventions for example involvement in the criminal justice system, access health services, drug and alcohol treatments etc. (Rees et al, 2017).

Young adults can also experience a range of risk and harms that may not be as relevant to younger children and require a different safeguarding response. Hanson & Holmes (2014) outlines these often inter-connected risks including:

  • Sexual abuse;
  • Physical abuse;
  • Neglect - Emotional abuse;
  • Homelessness;
  • Poor mental health and self-harm;
  • Criminal exploitation including gang association;
  • Substance misuse.

11. Multi-Agency Child Exploitation and Contextual Safeguarding Arrangements

Within North Yorkshire, CSE is managed through the MACE and Contextual Safeguarding (CS) Arrangements. Historically different forms of exploitation have had different approaches and responses, for example child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation, child trafficking etc. However, the MACE procedure takes a holistic view of exploitation whilst recognising that it can occur through different forms and often occurs in amongst other vulnerabilities that children and young people may be exposed to.

By the very nature of vulnerability and exploitation, the different themes of exploitation are invariably intertwined. The risks and vulnerabilities of the child are seen as a complete picture, so their needs can be addressed in a way that improves their long term outcomes, as appose to reducing risk in one particular area of vulnerability.

Exploitation often occurs without the child's immediate recognition and/or with the child believing that they are in control of the situation and can therefore be difficult to identify. Further, the nature of life in the 21st Century is that online and offline domains are no longer two distinct and separate areas. The relationship between the two is now fluid and interchangeable and as such we need to be able to recognise and respond to risk both in the online and offline environment.

It is important to note that there is NO specific referral form for MACE and Contextual Safeguarding which includes CSE and any child/children or young person related concerns should be managed and reported using the existing NYSCP procedures and the NYSPB referral process. There are existing statutory meeting structures in place that identify, assess and manage a child/children at risk and child/children in need concerns (Refer to Referral Section Below).

Where an exploitation or contextual safeguarding concern has been identified within a safeguarding referral, MACE screening and assessment will take place in the Multi Agency Screening Team (MAST). After an initial screening of any referral has taken place within the Customer Resolution Centre, the MAST role will be to ascertain whether any additional multi-agency intervention or support is required. All other relevant MACE information held by or known to North Yorkshire Police (NYP), North Yorkshire Council (NYC) and Health partners will be shared and managed utilising established MAST procedures.

There are two levels to the MACE and Contextual Safeguarding procedure in terms of how the process is structured across North Yorkshire.

Level One – Child/Children or Young Person(s) related – this involves the identification, risk assessment and risk management of those children identified as being at risk of child exploitation and incorporates three key components:

  1. Initial identification of risk through a safeguarding referral into the MAST
  2. Multi-Agency risk assessment and risk management of children at risk of exploitation through existing NYSCP Procedures
  3. Multi-agency Locality Tasking meeting held weekly to include a review of MFH cases, new CSE/CCE cases, oversight of high risk and complex cases and agreement of cases relevant to share at the MACE and Contextual Safeguarding Level 2 meeting

Level Two – MACE and Contextual Safeguarding – information relating to the links between children at risk or subject to exploitation, perpetrators or individuals who may pose a risk by exploitation and/or locations and community intelligence. This involves the following four components:

  1. The identification and assessment of perpetrators and/or individuals who may pose a risk by exploitation
  2. The sharing of community intelligence related to perpetrators or individuals who may pose a risk by exploitation as well as locations where harm is being caused within communities.
  3. The sharing of relevant details of children identified as at risk of or subject to exploitation through the Level 1 MACE and Contextual Safeguarding process. The purpose being to identify the community links between victims, perpetrators/individuals who may pose a risk by exploitation and locations through locality mapping exercises. This includes any concerns raised by other Local Authorities and private residential home providers and settings around Out of Area Child in Care placed in North Yorkshire
  4. To develop robust locality partnership action plans to develop intelligence, pursue and prosecute perpetrators and disrupt exploitation activity within communities.

Full details of the MACE and CS Practice Guidance can be viewed here

12. Framework for Decision-making: Right Help, at the Right Time by the Right Person

All agencies working within NYSCP have a responsibility to address the needs of children and young people in their area. Effective joint working provides the framework in which children's needs can be met across the spectrum.

The Framework for Decision-making: Right Help, at the Right Time by the Right Person has been developed to help and support practitioners working with children across all agencies and organisations, when faced with a decision about the safety and wellbeing of a child or young person. It is a collaborative approach to support and drive our shared ambition of the right help, at the right time from the right service and, importantly, from the right person.

13. National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

The NRM is a framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring that they receive appropriate support. It is also the mechanism through which the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) collect data about victims. The information contributes to building a clearer picture about the scope of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK.

The NRM was introduced in 2009 to meet the UK's obligations under the Council of European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. At the core of every country's NRM is the process of locating and identifying "potential victims of trafficking". The duty to refer children into the NRM is made by 'first responders' who include organisations such as Local Authority, Police and NSPCC where they suspect a child may have been subject to Modern Slavery or Human Trafficking. Modern Slavery is a complex crime and can involve multiple forms of exploitation. It encompasses:

  • Human Trafficking which is defined as 'the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons (including children) by means of threat, force or coercion for the purpose of sexual or commercial sexual exploitation or domestic servitude' (United Nations). Of note, children may be trafficked into the UK from abroad, but children can also be trafficked from one part of the UK to another;


  • Slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour which is the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the rights of ownership are exercised. People are treated as commodities and exploited for criminal gain. It is a global crime which transcends age, gender, ethnicity, and borders. Victims of modern slavery may have been brought legally or illegally from overseas, or they may be British citizens living in the United Kingdom. Unaccompanied and/or intentionally displaced children are at particular risk.

Some child victims may not recognise that they are being trafficked or exploited. They may feel they have chosen or consented to elements of their exploitation, or accepted it as part of their situation. However a child cannot give consent to be harmfully exploited by others, so this has no effect upon our action to safeguard those children.

North Yorkshire and City of York NRM Panel

North Yorkshire and City of York are currently taking part in a pilot of devolved decision making, which means that making the decision about whether a child has been subjected to modern slavery or human trafficking sits with the local decision making multi-agency NRM panel. The NRM Panel is a weekly virtual panel made up of senior managers from a number of key agencies including North Yorkshire Police, Children Social Care, Youth Justice Services, Health and the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian Service.

The aim of the twice-weekly virtual panel is to ensure there is consistent multi-agency decision-making and robust planning in respect of children who may be subjected to Modern Slavery.

The panel may hear the information surrounding what has happened to a child at three points:

  1. Pre – Screen – A referral can be made into the panel a first responder concerned that a child may be subject to modern slavery. The panel will consider the details and make a decision as to whether a referral should be submitted to the Single Competent Authority (SCA) which is part of the Home Office. The referrer will then be supported by the NRM Panel Coordinator submit the referral to the SCA online;
  2. Reasonable Grounds Once the SCA have received the referral, they will send it back to the NRM panel. Working Together to Safeguarding Children (2018) requires two decisions to be made. The first is a Reasonable Grounds (RG) decision where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual may be a victim;
  3. Conclusive Grounds the second decision the panel is required to make is a Conclusive Grounds (CG) decision as to whether, on the balance of probabilities, a child is a victim of modern slavery. If sufficient information is known at the Reasonable Grounds Decision meeting, both decisions can be made at the same time. If there is not and further information is needed, a further meeting will be scheduled to make the final CG decision. Both decisions have to be made no later than 45 days from the date the panel received the referral from the SCA*.

*Decisions made by the panel will be subject to Quality Assurance checks by the SCA

Further information about the NRM Panel can be found through our One Minute Guides on:

If you are a first responder [1] and you suspect you have a child who may have been victim of modern slavery you should speak to your manager and then contact the NRM Coordinator via email at Once a referral has been submitted to the NRM, a child may not be found subject to modern slavery and human trafficking, thus no further action will be taken. However, where this is not the case further outcomes are:

Stage 1 – The Reasonable Grounds decision:

If the NRM Panel reaches a 'Reasonable Grounds' decision this means that the panel believe that:

'I suspect but cannot prove that the person is a victim of Human Trafficking, Slavery, Servitude and Forced or Compulsory Labour'

If a 'Positive Reasonable Grounds' decision is reached, there is enough information to investigate.

Once a decision has been made, the police force in the area where the crime has been committed will be contacted by the SCA and a crime will be recorded and investigated by the police to establish, whether or not the child is the victim of modern slavery.

(Remember: the NRM runs alongside established safeguarding processes, it does not replace them).

The investigating officer will be provided with the contact details of the person who submitted the notification and is expected to liaise with them around how to best engage the young person and obtain any updates that might be helpful for the investigation.

Stage 2 – Conclusive Grounds Decision

If the panel make a Conclusive Grounds decision, it is decided that 'on the balance of probabilities', there is sufficient information to decide that the individual is a victim of modern slavery.

A Conclusive Grounds decision provides official recognition (based on the civil burden of proof), that a child is/was a victim of exploitation at that 'moment of time'. It does not confer any other automatic rights or benefits.

[1]The list of First Responders can be found here

14. Information Sharing and Additional Guidance

Remember that early sharing of information is key to providing effective help for children and young people. Where possible, practitioners should share confidential personal information with Children's Social Care with consent. However, where there are concerns that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, practitioners should share information without consent where the public interest served by protecting the child from harm outweighs the duty of where the public interest served by protecting the child from harm outweighs the duty of confidentiality.

Assessments should adopt a 'whole child' approach, not only looking at vulnerabilities and risk factors but also considering the wider needs, strengths and resources of the child or young person when planning support and services.

The most effective assessments will involve the young people concerned and all the practitioners working with them and incorporate risks and protective factors that also take into account their wider network in schools, peer groups and local neighbourhoods. Assessments need to be regularly updated as children's circumstances and the risks they face can change rapidly.

The young person's voice must be central to the assessment, and this should capture the lived experiences of the child, and take account of their context, their gender, ethnicity and culture.

Support put in place should aim to reduce the immediate risk of harm to children, as well as including longer term strategies to support their recovery and promote meaningful change. There is a difficult balance to strike between protecting the child from harm and supporting and empowering the child.

Working with sexually exploited children is a complex issue, which can involve serious crime and investigations over a wide geographical area. It is important that agencies work together and cross-reference and share information effectively when there are emerging concerns. The prosecution and disruption of perpetrators is an essential part of the process to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from sexual exploitation. Information gathering and sharing is essential in this process to understand local patterns in order to disrupt and deter perpetrators and to identify, help and protect children.

The Home Office has published a Child Exploitation Disruption Toolkit which sets out many of the tools useful for police and other safeguarding professionals to disrupt the sexual and criminal exploitation of children and young people and sets out best practice in information sharing and multi-agency working as well as intelligence and evidence gathering.

Effective early information sharing and intelligence gathering can:

  • Help build a coherent picture of risk sources and potential targets for abuse;
  • Identify and support a child's needs at the earliest opportunity; reducing the duration of harm and escalation to more serious abuse;
  • Help identify and understand the links between different forms of exploitation and hidden, or related, crimes;
  • Identify locations being used for the purposes of exploitation;
  • Identify networks or individuals who pose a risk to children;
  • Provide evidence in applications to the court for civil and criminal orders;
  • Enable quicker risk assessment of a potential victim of trafficking; and
  • Assist in the development of effective safety plans.

Raising awareness of child sexual exploitation with the wider community including parents and carers as well as public services such as transport and recreation and the business community is important and helps in developing an understanding of the local risks and patterns of offending. Schools have a crucial role in prevention by educating young people to understand the risks especially when young people are involved in developing prevention and awareness resources.

15. Supporting Children and their Families

Help should be provided in a timely, flexible and ongoing manner. Children and their parents / carers should feel part of the solution and confident they will be believed. Practitioners need to be child focused and adopt a strengths-based, outcomes-focused approach when working with the family.

The Child

When specific concerns are identified about child sexual exploitation, it is vital that children and young people receive the services they need, delivered in a way that recognises the complexity of their situation and maximises the likelihood of engagement.

The support / interventions needed will vary according to the individual child/young person, and could encompass preventative / resilience building work or recovery-based interventions.

Work with children and young people who are at risk of or have experienced child sexual exploitation needs to be handled in a sensitive and understanding way.

Where possible children and young people should be involved in decisions about their care, protection and on-going support and be kept informed on any issues that affect them.

Some children and young people will not see themselves as victims, nor want support or intervention. If this is not approached with sensitivity and understanding of the victim's viewpoint, they may be further isolated from the help they need.

Building positive relationships and trust with victims is an essential part of helping to reduce the risk of harm and creating safe spaces for disclosure. Many victims are only able to disclose after the provision of support, months or even years down the line.

Support services should offer young people persistent, consistent and assertive support that reaches out to them. Young people need to know and experience the tenacity of someone who is genuinely concerned for them. This means continuing to try to engage them even if they turn support down or display negative behaviours to practitioners trying to support them.

If the child continues to have contact with the perpetrator, this should not be misinterpreted as an informed choice or an indication of absence of harm or rejection of support but recognised as part of the complex power dynamic of the abusive relationship, similar to that in some situations of domestic violence and abuse.

Services should be non judgemental, and it is important to avoid language or actions that inadvertently contribute to children being ascribed responsibility or blame. Child sexual exploitation is caused by abusers not by the behaviours of children. Abuse does not occur because of a child or young person's vulnerability or actions. It occurs because there is someone who is willing to take advantage of this vulnerability.

Support and services put in place need to be coordinated across all agencies, and it can be helpful to ask the child to identify a key professional who is known and trusted by them and who can be the main point of contact. All support plans must build upon the resources and strengths available to a young person including an understanding of the risks and protective factors in schools, peer groups and local neighbourhoods.

It is important to understand the impact of abuse and trauma on children and young people and the need to work at their pace. Children need to feel confident that they can be protected from harm and that there is a future for them beyond the abuse. There are no quick fixes. Avoid making assumptions about the child and their needs. They may not be ready yet to engage with therapeutic or educational interventions.

Where criminal proceedings are ongoing, special consideration needs to be given to managing the support required for a victim and their family before and during the court process. A victim care strategy should be developed to meet their needs.

Parents and Carers

In cases of child sexual exploitation, the risk of harm to children is generally external or in the community. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel alienated and their self-esteem can be affected.

Family members (including siblings) can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.

Where assessment shows it is safe and appropriate to do so, parents and families should be regarded as a part of the solution. As long as they are not a source of risk, parents and carers (and children and young people's wider support networks) offer a very important protective resource.

Parents and carers are usually the people who spend most time with their children, know them best, love them and are invested in their well-being.

Practitioners should adopt a strengths based approach and seek to engage parents as safeguarding partners, empowering them about how to support and protect their child and working with them to enhance protective factors around the child or young person. This might include:

  • Helping parents to strengthen their relationships with their children, particularly in understanding teenage development and what makes their child vulnerable;
  • Helping parents to obtain a better understanding of child sexual exploitation including the different forms abuse, the grooming process, online abuse etc.);
  • Helping parents to understand how their children may respond to trauma and the behaviours they display;
  • Being non-judgemental and respectful;
  • Giving parents and carers enough information to help them to protect their children;
  • Enabling and empowering parents (for example, let them know what type of information to record about suspects and how to share this with the police and Children's Social Care);
  • Consider whether there are any barriers to prevent parents accessing support;
  • Be mindful when organising the logistics of meetings and explain to them the processes and possible outcomes. This also applies to police investigations.

16. Frequently Asked Questions

I need further advice and guidance, who do I contact?

As a practitioner, if you are unsure and would like further advice or guidance, the first step is to approach your line manager or your designated safeguarding lead. Alternatively, you can contact either:

North Yorkshire Multi Agency Screening Team (MAST)

T: 0300 131 2 131
Referral FormReferral Form to Children and Families Service

North Yorkshire Police
Telephone 101

Q: What if the young person is apparently consenting to this exploitation?

A: The legal position is that any young person over the age of 16 can consent to sex with people their own age or older. However, it is vital to note that a person under 18 involved in an exploitative relationship cannot give consent to their own abuse even if they do not recognise it as such. This applies to "boyfriend" models equally as to the provision of sexual services in return for payment or promised payment.

Sexual activity for under 18s as part of an exploitative situation is child abuse and cannot be deemed a "lifestyle choice", even if the victim does not see themselves as a victim. A child under the age of 13 is unable to consent to any sexual activity, irrespective of whether the child sees it as abusive or not.

Q: I have just heard something in passing and am not sure if it is relevant?

A: Any information should be passed on to the Police via the NY Police Partnership Information Sharing form.

It may be that it does not relate to any particular individual but just a comment relating to a place, people in a car or shop that is providing alcohol or where individuals of concern appear to be congregating. It could prove valuable in identifying a location, a perpetrator or other potential victims and help the police take disruptive and pre-emptive action to remove any specific threat.

Q: I am concerned that if I identify someone at risk they will not be happy with my actions and it may jeopardise my relationship and trust with them?

A: It is also your duty of care to share this information with the key agencies in order to protect the child or young person.

Q: I am concerned that if I flag someone as being at risk of CSE that this will remain on their file:

A: A child or young person's risk assessment should be reviewed at appropriate intervals to determine if they have the accurate risk category assigned to their case. The appropriate CSE risk will be flagged on the Children and Families Service case management system. As part of the step up / step down procedures and case closure process, the child or young person will be assessed and if they are no longer at risk of CSE, the CSE risk flag will be removed from the system/s

17. Further Information

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

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

Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse

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

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

Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation - Policing and Prevention has a number of resources that may be useful for professionals when working with children and young people, their families and communities including more in depth views of some particular themes and issues identifies in this chapter.

Child Exploitation Disruption Toolkit – GOV.UK. The toolkit sets out many of the tools useful for police and other safeguarding professionals to disrupt the sexual and criminal exploitation of children and young people and sets out best practice in information sharing and multi-agency working as well as intelligence and evidence gathering.

Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Centre (MSHTU)

Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation – College of Policing

Child Sexual Abuse – The Children's Commissioner

PACE - PACE works alongside parent, carers of children who are - or at risk of being - sexually exploited by perpetrators external to the family.

Tackling Child Exploitation: Resources Pack (Local Government Association)