Child Exploitation

Children may face from outside their families that may make them vulnerable to abuse or exploitation. These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online. They can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines, trafficking, online abuse and sexual exploitation.

The following pages provide information and resources aimed at supporting practitioners who are working with children and young people who may be at risk of exploitation.

The LSCP Risk and Vulnerabilities Strategy focuses on the following strands of exploitation and risk, recognising that individual children may be vulnerable to a range of risks and exploitation and that children who go missing from home and care are at increased risk of being exploited.

Who is vulnerable to Child Exploitation?

Any child, in any community: Child exploitation is occurring across the country. All practitioners should be open to the possibility that the children they work with might be affected. Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Criminal Exploitation can often be interlinked, with young people at risk of or experiencing both forms of abuse.

Age: Children aged 12-15 years of age are most at risk of child sexual exploitation although victims as young as 8 have been identified, particularly in relation to online concerns. Equally, those aged 16 or above can also experience child sexual exploitation, and it is important that such abuse is not overlooked due to assumed capacity to consent. Account should be taken of heightened risks amongst this age group, particularly those without adequate economic or systemic support. 

Children of any age can be criminally exploited.  The age of criminal responsibility in the UK is 10 years. 15-16 years is the most common age range for criminal exploitation.

Gender: Though child sexual exploitation may be most frequently observed amongst young females, boys are also at risk. Practitioners should be alert to the fact that boys may be less likely than females to disclose experiences of child sexual exploitation and less likely to have these identified by others. 

Both males and females are at risk of criminal exploitation, though it may most frequently be observed amongst young men.

Ethnicity: Child exploitation affects all ethnic groups. 

Heightened vulnerability factors:

  • Having a prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse; 
  • Lack of a safe/stable home environment, now or in the past (domestic violence or parental substance misuse, mental health issues or criminality, for example); 
  • Recent bereavement or loss; 
  • Being excluded from mainstream education;
  • Social isolation or social difficulties; 
  • Absence of a safe environment to explore sexuality /sexual identity; 
  • Economic vulnerability; 
  • Homelessness or insecure accommodation status; 
  • Connections with other children and young people who are being sexually or criminally exploited or with other people involved in gangs; 
  • Family members or other connections involved in adult sex work; 
  • Having mental health or substance misuse issues;
  • Having a physical or learning disability; 
  • Being in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories);

It is important to remember that young people are not abused/exploited because they are vulnerable, but because someone is prepared to take advantage of their vulnerability and at that moment there is insufficient protection around them.

It is important to note that perpetrators of exploitation may themselves be children who are exploited and that victims of exploitation may also be at risk of becoming perpetrators.

Child Exploitation Risk Identification Tool

This Child Exploitation Risk Identification tool helps you to decide whether a child or young person may be at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE), child criminal exploitation (CCE) or more than one form of child exploitation (CE).

The tool helps you to make an initial judgement about the level of risk of exploitation for the child or young person and what actions are required. It helps you identify the risk of exploitation and to assist in follow on planning, it is not a referral form.

When making a referral to the Children’s Service Duty and Advice team or sharing your concerns with the child’s allocated social worker, the tool should form the basis of those discussions.

Refer to the table at the end of the tool to help you decide how to proceed and discuss this with your manager.

Child 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.

Multi-agency Child Exploitation Framework (MACE)

The Multi-agency Child Exploitation (MACE) Framework describes Leeds’ arrangements when responding to the challenge of children vulnerable to exploitation, including: child sexual and criminal exploitation, children who go missing and other forms of abuse such as modern slavery and trafficking.

The MACE Framework promotes a multi-agency approach that responds to the government’s objectives as outlined in ‘Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation’ Progress Report February 2017 which are: tackling offenders, reducing vulnerability and supporting victims and survivors.

LSCP Training

Introduction to Child Exploitation training is an online multi-agency course for anyone working with children or young people who may be at risk of child exploitation. This course provides an overview of child exploitation in its various forms including county lines and sexual exploitation. The course helps practitioners to understand how to identify when a child or young person may be at risk of exploitation. It also looks at how practitioners can respond to identified or suspected child exploitation in order to safeguard the child from harm.

Team Briefing

Team briefings have been developed to encourage discussions and reflection on a variety of safeguarding subjects within teams.

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