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5.9 Child Sexual Exploitation - A Framework for Professionals Working with Children who Experience, or are at Risk of, Sexual Exploitation


This Knowsley Council and KSCP guidance provides information about sexual exploitation, the roles and responsibilities of relevant agencies and the procedures practitioners should follow to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people who it is suspected have been sexually exploited.

The chapter emphasises the importance  multi-agency working and provides relevant additional reading and tools to assist decision-making.


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

Pan Merseyside Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Protocol


DfE, Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (February 2017)

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018

Information sharing advice for safeguarding practitioners (2018) 

Pan Cheshire/Merseyside Child Sexual Exploitation Multi-Agency Strategy 2015-17


This chapter was updated in December 2017 to add a new section, Section 8, Further Information which provides additional material and guidance. Please note also that Merseyside Multi Agency Protocol – Child Sexual Exploitation (2016 – 2017) has been added in Relevant Guidance (above).

This chapter is currently under review.

1. Introduction

The aim of this Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Framework is to provide and promote a clear consistent response to concerns about child sexual exploitation in Knowsley. This includes clarity for use by other local authorities, Merseyside Police, schools and further education institutions, the third sector, public health and other key safeguarding and community safety partners.

The premise for this Framework is based upon;

  1. CSE is an unlawful act against a child and therefore constitutes a form of child abuse;
  2. Given CSE is a form of child abuse it is also a Child Protection matter and as such it should be dealt with in accordance to local child protection procedures.

Knowsley Safeguarding Children Board is committed to ensuring that all children who are at risk or victims of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) are:

  • Treated as a child who is a victim of abuse;
  • Provided with a  prompt response to protect and promote their welfare;
  • Provided with joint multi-agency working to prevent abuse and provide children and young people with opportunities and strategies to exit from sexual exploitation;
  • Investigate and contribute to the prosecution of those who groom, coerce and abuse children through sexual exploitation.

It is important to emphasise that this Framework suggest that cases should not be held outside of Children's Social Care unless they do not meet the criteria for a response under Section 17 (child in need) or Section 47 (child protection) of the Children Act 1989.

The local authority might find it appropriate to pursue child in need processes to protect children at risk of CSE where there are no, or limited, concerns relating to the family home and use child protection procedures where there are safeguarding concerns relating to the family. However, it should be noted that there is nothing in law that restricts the use of child protection procedures to cases where the risks are intra-familial.

This Framework meets the KSCB priority area three which is that Children and Young People in Knowsley are safeguarded from exploitation including sexual exploitation.

This Framework has been overseen and subject to consultation from the multi-agency CSE Sub Group and CSE Strategic Development group.

The evaluation of this Framework will take place via the CSE Sub Group initially within the first six months of implementation and thereafter on an annual basis.

National Policy and Guidance

The Government guidance Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (DfE, February 2017) sets out the key strategies for Local Safeguarding Children Boards in dealing with sexual exploitation. The main purpose of strategies should be:

  • Preventing children at risk from becoming involved in sexual exploitation through diversion and support plans;
  • Identifying those children at risk of sexual exploitation;
  • Taking action to safeguard and promote the welfare of children involved in sexual exploitation;
  • Taking action against perpetrators.

This CSE Framework to safeguard children who are abused or at risk of abuse through sexual exploitation is drawn from the following local and national guidance:

This CSE Framework supersedes the Knowsley Local Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Working Arrangement, July 2014.

This document should be read in conjunction with the:


The CSE & Missing From Home Sub Group is Chaired by the Assistant Executive Director of Children's Social Care who reports on the implementation of the CSE Framework, key themes and activity of the Shield CSE Team, and implementation of key CSE government objectives.

Children Missing From Home and Criminal Exploitation

Research has identified the links between Child Sexual Exploitation, children missing from home and criminal exploitation. A Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Team – 'Shield', has been established in Knowsley with plans to develop into a joint child missing from home, Child Sexual and Criminal Exploitation Team.

2. Definition of Child Sexual Exploitation

The DfE, Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (February 2017) defines child sexual exploitation 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.

This definition has been included by Working Together to Safeguard Children.

The National Working Group developed the following definition:

The sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive 'something' (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities. Child sexual exploitation can occur through use of technology without the child's immediate recognition, for example the persuasion to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones with no immediate payment or gain. In all cases those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources.

(The National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People, 2008)

3. Raising Awareness about Child Sexual Exploitation

Evidence based research has shown that there are significant numbers of young people who exchange sex for accommodation, drugs, goods other items and or affection. Many young people are unaware of the risks they are taking and the danger they may be putting themselves in.

How does it happen?

There are many different pathways and routes into sexual exploitation, many of which involve grooming. There is a growing understanding within agencies responsible for child protection that grooming plays an integral part in the sexual exploitation of children and young people.

Many young people are 'groomed' by an abusing adult who befriends the young person and makes them feel special by buying them gifts or giving them lots of attention. Sexual exploitation can also occur between young people of a similar age and this is referred to as 'peer on peer' exploitation.

Grooming can take the form of 'Sexting', which is an activity that is very common amongst children and young people. It involves the sharing of inappropriate or explicit images online or through mobile phones. It can also refer to written messages.

Numerous enquiries and research1 have confirmed that sexual exploitation is affecting many children under 18 years of age. The exploitation of children is taking place in flats and premises in and outside Knowsley. A further feature of exploitation for victims is a significant link to substance misuse, criminal behaviour and children going missing from home.

Research has shown that young people have frequently been coerced into CSE by an older person, who pose as, and whom they view as their boyfriend/girlfriend and are physically and emotionally dependent upon them. This relationship may be reinforced by the use of alcohol and drugs and over time, access to friends and family can be become restricted and the child alienated from their family and statutory services.  The importance, therefore, of attending training and to be aware of how to spot the signs of CSE is essential for all professionals working with children and young people.

Knowsley Safeguarding Children Board is committed to highlighting the need for boys to be seen equally to girls as vulnerable to sexual exploitation. To date very few referrals have been made in respect of boys. This is not thought to reflect the extent of male sexual exploitation, but rather the extent of the further work needed to identify it. Knowsley's multi-agency training team provides training on CSE, which also focuses on the vulnerability of boys.

In most cases, whether a victim is a girl or boy and the abuser is a peer or older person the abuser has power of some kind over the young person. It may be that the abuser is more emotionally mature, physically stronger, or that they are in a position where they are able to control the young person. Providing children and young people with information about CSE and how to keep safe is a key priority and an essential part of the targeted work Knowsley are committed to.

The background of children and young people who are abused through sexual exploitation is not exclusive to one type. They come from different cultures, ethnicities and socio and economic backgrounds. They may be living at home; they may be looked after by Children's Social Care (CSC), they may be street homeless, sofa surfing or living in hostels.

Research2 indicates that, significant numbers of children and young people involved or on the periphery of sexual exploitation, have been looked after, but many have not. Those particularly vulnerable are young people living in residential children's homes. Some children and young people come from families with severe problems, and many may have experienced abuse, but this is not always the case. The most common factors are low self-esteem and vulnerability.

Child Sexual Exploitation doesn't always involve physical contact and can happen online. Young people access the Internet in a number of different ways via their mobile smartphones, tablets or laptops or computers etc. All young people may be at risk of CSE whether it's due to a lack of confidence and experience in the online world, or high exposure due to increased accessibility.

Early Identification

Early identification of child sexual exploitation is critical to the implementation of effective and timely interventions. All agencies should be aware of the need to identify risks and refer any concerns to the Knowsley Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). This is Knowsley's children's social care 'front door' (see Appendix 1a: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC) and CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC ( see Appendix 1b: CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC).

A multi-agency response when a child is sexually exploited or at risk of sexual exploitation is essential in order to help support the child to exit the abuse and for the Police to deal with the perpetrators.

Disclosure of sexual exploitation is always difficult for children. The sophisticated grooming process used by the abuser and the exchange element of this form of abuse can act as additional barriers which increases denial and makes disclosure especially difficult for the victim.

Vulnerable children may struggle to find the words to express what has happened to them and professionals may themselves be uncomfortable about asking the necessary questions when they suspect that sexual exploitation has taken place.

An understanding patient adult with the skills to support a child is essential. Time spent with the young person and a relationship established by a trusting adult is needed in many cases before a sexually exploited child will feel able to reveal the truth about what has happened to them. Being believed and not judged is essential for young people who are ready to disclose their abuse.

To find out more about Child Sexual Exploitation and to read about the stories of young people who have been sexually exploited please go to the 'Welcome to Listen to my Story' website.


Girls and boys under 16 cannot by law consent to any form of sexual activity. Anyone engaging in sexual activity, whether for money or not, with a girl or boy under 16 (whether perpetrator is male or female) is committing an offence.

It is important to remember that just because a young person is over the age of 16, it does not mean that they cannot be victims of CSE. A young person who has been subject to a complex pattern of life experiences including sophisticated grooming does not stop needing support and protection when they reach the age of 16. They remain a vulnerable young person and will be supported by children's social care until 18 years of age.

Transition into Adulthood for Sexually Exploited Young People

If a young person is being sexually exploited and is approaching their 18th birthday, good practice would recommend that contact is made with the Adult Services to identify what on-going support can be provided for the young person when they are legally an adult.

Vulnerability/Risk Factors

Sexual relationships are generally a personal matter but where a child under 16 years, is sexually active this may be a matter of concern for carers and professionals. Although the sexual relationship may appear to be based on consent, it may occur against a background of exploitation. Even where the child can legally consent to sex, they are still vulnerable to exploitation and professionals need to be aware of the indicators. It is also important to be clear that young people between the ages of 16 – 18 years can also be sexually exploited and must also to be supported under the legislative framework of the Children Act 1989 and 2004.

Research shows that young people are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation where any of the following indicators are present (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Going missing from home regularly/frequently;
  • Family breakdown;
  • Not in full time education;
  • Associating with older people;
  • Domestic Violence and Abuse within the family;
  • Family involvement in sexual exploitation;
  • Children of parents with a high level of vulnerabilities (drug/alcohol, mental health, etc.);
  • Children with substance misuse or mental health issues;
  • Experience of Physical Abuse and emotional deprivation;
  • Experience of child Sexual Abuse;
  • Experience of being bullied in school;
  • Looked After Children in residential care;
  • Children within the criminal justice service.

Trafficked Children

Practitioners need to be aware that some children who come to their attention as being either involved in or at risk of involvement in sexual exploitation may have been Trafficked into the UK for the specific purpose of working in the sex industry. The trafficking of children is not exclusive to children being brought into the UK from another country. Trafficking can occur within a country, town or city. A young person may also be trafficked from across an area of Knowsley to another or even from one room to another room for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Practitioners should refer to the following documents from the Department of Education website for further information on trafficked children:

Children and Young People Who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour

There are a growing number of young people who are sexually harmful to their peers and this CSE Framework should also be referred to in conjunction with the policy concerning children who display sexually harmful behavior. [3]

See Children who Display Inappropriate and Harmful Sexual Behaviour: Procedural Guidance.

[3] Unprotected, Overprotected: meeting the needs of young people with learning disabilities who experience, or are at risk of, sexual exploitation. September 2015

Disabled Children and Young People?  

Although research concerning the sexual exploitation of disabled children is very limited, information gathered to date has highlighted that disabled children and young people are more likely to be abused than non-disabled children. Training and awareness about the additional vulnerabilities for disabled children and young people at risk of, or currently being sexually exploited must form part of all multi-agency training to partner agencies working with children and young people.

Models of Child Sexual Exploitation

The Relationship Model

This model of sexual exploitation is when perpetrators often befriend a young person and make them believe they are in a loving relationship. They are then coerced into having sex with their 'boyfriends'/'girlfriends' friends.

Peer on Peer Model

Peer on Peer is another young person of similar age usually known to the young person who sexually exploits the young person.

Organised and Trafficking Model

This type of exploitation involves the trafficking of young people for sex, sometimes internationally, around the country or just between towns, cities, houses or rooms.

Gangs Model

This can include sexual exploitation through gang initiation, pressure from gangs or as punishment for crossing into the boundary of the rival gang.

Party Model of Exploitation

Organised parties to lure young people with drink and drugs. Children are introduced to an exciting environment where sex and violence are normalised.

Criminal Offences Against Children

Sexual offences against children are set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which provides the legal framework regarding the ages at which consent to sexual activity can be given, and the circumstances where any consent given by the child will be considered void because it has been obtained through duress or coercion. In all cases, consideration should be given as to whether an offence has been committed against the child, and the Police should carry out a criminal investigation to decide what action may be taken against the perpetrator. Given the complexity of this type of risk and abuse and the coercion, rewards, secrecy and fear on which it thrives, creative and proactive interventions are key to protecting children and apprehending the abusers.

The main points of the Sexual Offences Act 2003

Children under 13 years of age do not have the legal capacity to consent to sexual activity under any circumstances, and any sexual activity will be considered an offence.

Young people aged between 13 years and 15 years of age cannot legally consent to sexual activity although it is recognised that teenagers of a similar age may mutually agree to sexual activity. The key question is a matter of whether consent was obtained through coercion within an exploitative context or where drugs and alcohol are involved. Where this is the case, any consent given by the child will be disregarded.

Young people aged 16 and 17 can consent to sexual activity, but an offence will be committed where there is an imbalance of power due to a disparity in ages, where there is an element of duress, abuse or exploitation or where there is an abuse of a position of trust.

An adult who has been in contact with a child under the age of 16 on just one occasion and who arranges to meet the child with the intention of carrying out a sexual offence will be guilty of grooming even if no sexual activity has taken place. (Sexual Offences Act 2003, amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015).

Any adult who is involved in the sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18, including involvement in the sex industry as a sex worker or the production of pornographic materials, will be guilty of an offence.

It is an offence to arrange or facilitate the commission of any sexual offence against a child under the age of 18, including any child who is brought to the UK for these purposes (trafficked children).

Confidentiality and Information Sharing

Confidentiality is an important principle of any service delivery and maintaining a high level of confidentiality is especially important to ensure children engage with services. The nature of sexual exploitation can raise problems regarding engagement, as children are concerned that information may be passed on to other agencies.

They may not have insight into the exploitative nature of their relationships or may be under pressure not to discuss their situation and to avoid contact with statutory agencies. For this reason, sexually exploited children are more likely to engage with voluntary agencies.

However, confidentiality is not an absolute principle, and professionals need to be aware of the circumstances under which confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. For example, relevant information must be shared with other agencies where children may be at risk of Significant Harm. The Children Act 1989 states that the welfare of the child is paramount, and this needs to be made clear to children from the outset.

It is essential therefore, that all professionals working with children and young people in Knowsley that have concerns about CSE must follow the 'Merseyside Multi Agency CSE Protocol' – 'Information Sharing Agreement' (ISA) set out in appendix 9.

Generally, the subject's permission should be sought before any information about them is disclosed to a third party. Exceptions include when the situation is urgent, and any objections can be overridden if there is a possibility that maintaining confidentiality may result in significant harm to a child.

A child aged 16 years or over is capable of giving consent to disclosure of information about them to other agencies on their own behalf. Children aged under 16 can give their consent if they have the capacity to understand the nature of information sharing and can make their own decisions. If the child is too young or not considered of sufficient understanding to give their consent, parents or anyone else who hold parental responsibility for the child must be asked to provide consent on their behalf.

For further information go to the Department for Education (DfE) website and search – 'Information Sharing'.

Confidentiality and Child Sexual Exploitation

There are two situations where confidentiality may need to be breached in order to protect children:

  1. If any agency has reasonable cause to believe that a child may be at risk of suffering significant harm, they have a duty to make a referral to Children's Social Care or where there is immediate danger to call the Police. Concerns may arise from a specific incident or a more general view that the child is or will suffer significant harm as a result of being sexually exploited;
  2. Alternatively, if Children's Social Care or the Police approach another agency for information as part of a child protection investigation, that agency has a duty to provide the relevant information. It may be the case that an agency will have positive as well as concerning information, and it is important that this is shared, in order to achieve a balanced view and make informed decisions regarding the child's safety.

5. A Multi Agency Shared Responsibility

Knowsley Safeguarding Children Board (KSCB) is committed to tackling the issue of sexual exploitation of children through a coordinated multi-agency strategic plan, which is overseen by the Knowsley CSE Sub Group.

It is recognised that in order to successfully protect sexually exploited children there must be a robust, multi agency approach to the:

  • Prevention;
  • Identification;
  • Intervention;
  • Planning; 
  • Prosecution.

It is vital that agencies work together and share information to identify children who are involved, or at risk of becoming involved, in sexual exploitation.

Timely intervention will divert children away from potential sexual exploitation, protect and support those children who are being sexually exploited and enable them to consider exit strategies and recovery.

Child Centred Approach

Children involved in sexual exploitation have been and are being sexually abused. They are sexually, physically and emotionally at risk of Significant Harm, both in the short and long term. These children do not make informed choices to enter or remain in sexual exploitation, but do so from coercion, enticement, manipulation or desperation, because they can see no alternative, or do not recognise that they are being sexually exploited.

All sexually exploited children are Children in Need and children in need of protection under the Children Act 1989 and will initially be dealt with as such by referral to children's social care. Interventions undertaken by Children's Social Care will be aimed at supporting and protecting the child and their family.

If a child is considered to be at risk or found to be exposed to sexual exploitation in accordance with Child Protection procedures, there should be:

  1. A Strategy Discussion (under Section 47, Children Act 1989) to considered whether the child is at risk or likely to be suffering significant harm; and if so,
  2. Children's Social Care should initiate Section 47 enquiries.

Any response must address each child's individual circumstances, including consideration of issues of gender, race, culture, religion, sexuality and sexual orientation. Many children abused through sexual exploitation have difficulty distinguishing between their own choices around sex and sexuality and the sexual activities they are coerced into. This potential confusion needs to be understood by agencies delivering support services and handled with care and sensitivity accordingly.

Developing the trust necessary to enable services to be provided to sexually exploited children and assist their recovery has proven to be complex and to take considerable time and perseverance. National research and practice elsewhere has shown that this work is best undertaken by non-statutory agencies with the support of statutory agencies or with a professional whom the child has a healthy relationship with.

Training and Induction

This Framework should be shared with all key members of staff within each agency. The Framework should be part of the induction of all agency professionals in Knowsley working with children and young people.

6. Agency Roles in Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation

Children's Social Care

Children's Social Care hold the lead responsibility for responding to children abused through or at risk of sexual exploitation. The police hold the lead responsibility for the disruption and prosecution of perpetrators. The work to support children and young people should be carried out in conjunction with the work to disrupt and/ or prosecute perpetrators.

  • Where sexual exploitation is identified as a potential risk, Children's Social Care will carry out an Assessment under Section 17 of the CA 1989 to identify the child's level of risk and need for service provision and will advise the referrer of the outcome of this assessment;
  • The Assessment may identify the child to be at risk of significant harm and in need of protection. This may necessitate a child protection enquiry under section 47 of the CA 1989; or
  • The Assessment may indicate that the child is in need and that services are needed to prevent impairment to their health or development;
  • Where no concerns are identified, there will be no further action by Children's Social Care but the child may require help or universal services. In these cases, Children's Social Care will need to advise the referrer;
  • NB: where the child is in the care of the local authority and they are considered to be at risk of harm due to exploitation, Child Protection procedures should be followed.


Sections 47 to 51 of Sexual Offences Act 2003 deal with the sexual exploitation of children. The Act creates a number of offences that apply to different types of sexual exploitation. The priority for the police is the investigation and prosecution of offenders who have been involved in abusing the child through sexual exploitation. This role should be undertaken in accordance with the principle of multi-agency co-operation to safeguard children. Offences and concerns will be identified via a range of methods including intelligence, criminal investigations and referrals.

The initial police response to the discovery of a child who is being, or is at immediate risk of being, abused through sexual exploitation, must be to remove them from the source of harm and ensure that any necessary evidence is secured. This action must be followed by referral to Children's Social Care.

If there are concerns or suspicious activity concerning CSE but no named child or children, the individual should submit intelligence flagged as CSE, which will be forwarded to the Team. This information may form part of vital police intelligence and be the missing link to a possible investigation.

Criminal action in respect of the child victim should be avoided wherever possible. Unless there are exceptional circumstances such action should not be instigated until the matter has been discussed within a multi-agency meeting, Particular attention should be paid to the following:

  • All interviews with the child as an actual or potential victim should be conducted, as far as possible, in accordance with the best evidence interview. However, flexibility needs to be applied, as it may take a number of interviews before the child is able to make, or to complete a statement;
  • If the child has made a statement and/or is a potential witness, support should be considered as early as possible.

Where there are concerns and the name of the children is not known and the concerns are not immediate or are unclear, staff should discuss the case with their designated safeguarding lead. In the case of street activity being noted where there are concerns about CSE activity, including within parks, staff should complete the police CSE Intelligence Form (see Appendix 4: Police Information/Intelligence Form) and send to

Knowsley Council Leisure and Community Services

The role of leisure and community services staff in relation to children abused through sexual exploitation is in the prevention, recognition and referral stages. Where staff, such as play workers, leisure centre workers or librarians, have immediate concerns they should, together with their agency's designated person, make a referral to Children's Social Care.

Where there are concerns and the name of the child/ren is not known and the concerns are not immediate or are unclear, staff should discuss the case with their designated person. In the case of street activity being noted where there are concerns about CSE activity, including within parks, staff should complete the police CSE Intelligence Form (see Appendix 4: Police Information/Intelligence Form) and send to the CSE Team.

Schools, Colleges & Further Education

Staff in schools, further education colleges and other education establishments are uniquely placed to recognise and refer children who are abused through sexual exploitation. They are also in a position to help children to avoid being sexually exploited and to support abused children and young people to recover.

Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons can help children make informed and healthy choices about relationships, consenting to sexual activity, grooming techniques, drug use and keeping themselves safe.

School staff should be alert to identify and act upon concerns that a child is at risk of or experiencing abuse through sexual exploitation.

The Designated Teacher for Safeguarding children in each school or college should monitor information to identify when more than one child/young person in the school/college or community may be targeted for sexual exploitation.

Where school staff have concerns they should, together with their Designated Teacher make a referral to Children's Social Care. Please refer to the referral pathway: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC (see Appendix 1a: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC) and CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC (see Appendix 1b: CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC) Where the concerns are unclear staff should discuss the case with their Designated Safeguarding Teacher and agree to contact the Shield CSE Team for advice.

Youth Offending

Youth Offending workers will also have information regarding children who are at the highest risk of offending and a number of the children who are referred to the service may be involved in sexual exploitation.

Youth Offending Officers should be alert to identify and act upon concerns that a child is at risk of or experiencing abuse through sexual exploitation. They should follow the referral pathways: Appendix 1a: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC and Appendix 1b: CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC. If there is any uncertainty about making a referral contact must be made with a member of the Shield CSE Team for advice.

Health Services

Government guidance on children involved in sexual exploitation states:

'Because of the universal nature of most health provision, health professionals may often be the first to be aware that a child may be involved, or be at risk of becoming involved, in sexual exploitation. Children involved in sexual exploitation are likely to need a range of services, including advice and counselling for harm reduction, health promotion, advice on sexually transmitted infections and HIV'. See NCB, Practice guidance: supporting young people with HIV testing and prevention.

Health professionals should be alert and competent to identify and act upon concerns that a child is at risk of or experiencing abuse through sexual exploitation. They have a crucial role in providing support for the physical and mental health of these children.

Where health professionals have concerns they should discuss the case with their safeguarding lead to decide the next course of intervention which maybe a referral to Children's Social Care.

Health staff should offer and/or continue to provide health education, counselling, sexual health and medical intervention to the child as an appropriate part of early intervention.

Health professionals may be invited to attend multi agency meetings where CSE is one of the concerns and those health practitioners are:

  • All current health professionals involved with the child, including school nurses, nurses working with children in local authority care, health workers involved with outreach clinics, sexual health and family planning resources;
  • Any previously involved health professionals (recent past) who would have a useful contribution to make to the meeting, (i.e. most recent health reports and knowledge of child while at school).


Housing officers are likely to have information relating to locations and addresses in Knowsley where sexual exploitation of children takes place and may have information about perpetrators that needs to be shared with the Police in the Shield CSE Team. They also have a role in identifying children who may be at risk of sexual exploitation, and should attend training that enables them to identify CSE indicators and when to make appropriate referrals.

Voluntary and Community Groups / Agencies

Government guidelines on young people involved in sexual exploitation emphasis the importance of a multi-agency approach, which includes voluntary and community groups / agencies:

'The child may seek to avoid statutory services. They are more likely to respond to informal contact, for example, with health outreach workers, or local non-statutory agencies. The primary concern of all those involved must be the welfare of the child, and decisions on the sharing of concerns about a child's safety must form part of local protocols between police, local authority children's social care, health, housing and education authorities and non-statutory agencies.'

There is a wide range of specialist services (drug misuse, HIV prevention, homelessness, counselling and advice) and other voluntary and community agencies / groups (youth clubs, sport/drama groups, faith groups and churches etc) who may well be placed to identify children who are at risk or are experiencing abuse through sexual exploitation because:

  • Voluntary and community sector agencies often have a close relationship with their local communities;
  • Voluntary and community sector agencies can develop relationships of trust with the children and maintain a link to the child if they become 'lost' to statutory services;
  • Outreach agencies are often the first point of contact for children in risk situations;
  • Specialist voluntary agencies often have the opportunity to provide vital health / harm and risk reduction support.

It is essential that voluntary and community groups / agencies operate as multi-agency network partners in order to provide children with access to the widest possible range of intervention and support services.

Professionals and volunteers in voluntary and community groups / agencies should be alert and competent to identify and act upon concerns that a child is at risk of or experiencing abuse through sexual exploitation. They are well placed to receive and verify information about sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the local community.

Each voluntary and community group or agency should have a nominated Safeguarding Children Adviser.

Where a professional or volunteer in a voluntary or community group / agency have concerns they must follow the referral pathway: Appendix 1a: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC and Appendix 1b: CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC process outlined in the procedures.

Children & Young People

The views of the child / young person should always be heard even when presented as negative.

Due to the nature of sexual exploitation, it may be hard to engage children if they are in denial about their exploitation or worried about their parents knowing about their situation. In these cases, the input of voluntary agencies, a person the young person has a good relationship with or a member of the Knowsley Shield CSE Team may be important in keeping the child engaged in the process and in working with them to protect themselves.

It is important that children are encouraged to involve their parents/carers unless this is not consistent with their general welfare or there is a possibility they may be involved in the exploitation.

Parents / Carers

Generally, parents have a right to be informed of any concerns regarding their child or a child in their care. Many may be well aware of the problems but feel powerless to protect or support their child without the help of agencies.

The Children Act 1989 stresses the importance of working in partnership with parents unless this is not consistent with the child's welfare and safety.

If the child is under the age of 13 years parents must be informed unless there are Child Protection concerns that would further place the child at risk of Significant Harm.

The child and their parents/carers should be made aware of any concerns and should be involved in developing diversionary and support plans. However, engaging the child and family and alerting them to the risks should be approached with a high level of sensitivity to avoid alienation.

There are many websites for parents to access for more information, advice and support about CSE for Parents. Parents should be encouraged to seek further information by referring them to organisations such as PACE.

Children in Residential Care

Children living in residential care are particularly vulnerable to CSE. If the child lives in a residential home the staff should be asked to take positive action to clarify and record suspicions to minimise the child's involvement in sexual exploitation. If suspicions are confirmed, the following steps should be taken:

  • Treating the child as a victim of exploitation, not a criminal;
  • Ensuring that all relevant information is recorded in the child's Care Plan and file – concerning adults and identifying information (e.g. appearance, cars etc, telephone activity, the child's pattern of going missing etc) – together with decisions and clear directions for action;
  • Making every effort to dissuade the child from leaving to engage in sexual exploitation by talking to them, involving them in alternative activities, and ensuring they have the resources to attend distraction activities including escorting them where necessary;
  • Ensuring that the child is aware of the legal issues involved, including advice that staff cannot safeguard money, which is reasonably suspected to have been gained through sexual exploitation. When staff do acquire such money, they must retain it and seek children services and Shield CSE Team advice;
  • In agreement with the allocated social worker, monitor telephone calls and letters by preventing the child from receiving some incoming calls. Be present when phone calls are made; confiscate a mobile phone which is being used inappropriately; open some letters in the presence of the child and withhold letters if necessary. Reasons for intercepting letters and calls and removal of a mobile phone should be included in the care and placement plan; 
  • Monitoring callers to the home, or adults collecting or dropping off children by car, including taxis. This may involve turning visitors away, or passing information direct to the CSE Team Police, monitoring any suspicious activity in the vicinity of the home and informing the CSE Team;
  • Where these efforts fail, and the child leaves, staff need to decide whether to follow them and continue to encourage them to return;
  • If they will not return, staff should inform the local police and pass on relevant information to the Shield CSE Team Police;
  • Liaising with outreach agencies, so they can look for a child who has gone missing;
  • Offering sensitive and welcoming responses to children returning home. The residential care staff must inform the allocated social worker of the concerns and a return home interview must take place.

Children in Foster Care

If the child is in foster care the social worker and supervising social worker should meet with the foster carer to agree for a referral to be made. A child's behaviour and attitude may be extremely challenging and distressing and carers will require ongoing support, advice and training in knowing how to respond.

7. What to do if you Suspect that a Child is a Victim of or at Risk of Sexual Exploitation

Professionals working with children need to be aware of the indicators of sexual exploitation and note any changes in behaviour that suggests that the child or young person may be involved in or at risk of involvement in sexual exploitation.

In the early stages professionals need to take note of children who may show indicators of being groomed and should also be aware of children in sexual relationships that present as consensual but which may be exploitative. Importantly, professionals must share information with others in the child's network. It is often only when all information is available that a true picture of the child's situation comes to light. In some cases the sharing of information about one child may highlight other children who may also be at risk of sexual exploitation.

All Child Sexual Exploitation Concerns

All CSE referrals must be made to Children's Social Care between 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday by email to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub otherwise known as MASH, telephone 0151 443 2600. Please refer below to the FLOWCHART for the referral pathway in: Appendix 1a: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC and Appendix 1b: CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC. At all other times the Emergency Duty Team (EDT) acts as the 'first point of contact'. EDT will only respond to Emergencies that cannot wait until the next working day. Telephone 0151 443 2600 or Police on 101.

Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub – MASH

The MASH team will record the referral using the CSE 1 and MARF (if the case is not already open to CSC) and, dependent on the level of concern, decide whether a Strategy Discussion should take place. If a decision is made for a strategy discussion then the social worker will invite a member of the Shield CSE Team and the Police.

The MASH team must send the CSE 1 to the MACSE Meeting administrator regardless of the level of risk.

Strategy Discussion / Meetings

A Strategy Discussion should take place where a child or young person is initially assessed as being at risk of or involved in CSE. A MASH Team Manager or the manager for the child of a case already open to Children Social Care will chair all strategy meetings.

The MASH Team Manager will lead in arranging the strategy discussion. As a minimum the Police and health must participate in the strategy discussion and should include any other agency that has information or involvement with the young person.

The strategy discussion should be held as soon as possible following the referral to MASH and in all cases this should be within 24 hours. If a decision is made for a strategy meeting, this must take place within 72 hours of the strategy discussion. The strategy discussion or meeting should consider carefully the risks recorded on the CSE 1 and any other information from professionals involved and decide on the next course of action, taking into account the level of risk that has been identified to the child or young person. All agreed actions should be carefully recorded. It is important that the strategy discussion / meeting also considers any risk the young person may present to others including whether they are being asked to introduce other young people to the perpetrators.

SHIELD Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Team

Knowsley have a dedicated multi-agency child sexual exploitation team known as the Shield CSE Team that have the primary purpose to safeguard and protect children from CSE, take action to disrupt any possible CSE activity and to pursue perpetrators to prosecution. In addition the Shield team will offer CSE training to all agencies in Knowsley.

The Shield Team consists of Social Workers, Police Officers, Barnardos, Catch 22 and a children's social care Family Support Worker.

The Shield Team works with children under the age of 18. Dependent on the level of need each young person may be allocated an identified worker from the team to carryout specific CSE work with the young person. If the child is open to children social care as a child in need, child protection or a looked after child there will always be an allocated social worker.

The identified worker for the young person within the Shield Team or a professional that knows the young person well, will be responsible for completing the Pan Merseyside Measurement Tool CSE2 (see Appendix 3: Child Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool & MACSE Plan - CSE2 – Merseyside) and will draw up a multi-agency child sexual exploitation plan (MACSE Plan) (see Appendix 3: Child Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool & MACSE Plan - CSE2 – Merseyside)The plan will identify how professionals and parents/carers (where appropriate) can offer ongoing support to the young person, prevent any further CSE, protect the young person from CSE and pursue perpetrators where possible.

During the ongoing work with the young person if there are any further incidents of CSE then a new CSE1 must be completed and the usual referral pathway followed. A review of the level of risk using the CSE 2 measurement tool (see Appendix 3: Child Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool & MACSE Plan - CSE2 – Merseyside) must also be completed and further reviewed in three months to ascertain whether the levels of risk have reduced.

MACSE Meetings

In line with the Merseyside Multi-agency CSE Protocol all cases of CSE must be heard at a monthly multi-agency child sexual exploitation meeting otherwise known as the MACSE meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to allow regular information sharing and action planning to tackle child sexual exploitation. The meeting will receive referrals via the CSE 1, from the MASH team.

The meeting will consider each referral against intelligence held by the range of agencies represented at the meeting, and intelligence provided by additional agencies unable to attend meetings.

The MACSE Meeting will run alongside the safeguarding process to ensure all information in relation to CSE is collated at a central point.

The MACSE meetings will be chaired by Merseyside Police (usually a Detective Chief Inspector from the BCU) and will co-ordinate the tactical response to each referral.

Children Social Care will be responsible for administrating the MACSE meeting and will ensure that the information received via the referral process will be scheduled for discussion.

It is the responsibility of the allocated worker to decide whether the referred child's parents are informed that their child will be discussed at the MACSE meeting. Clearly best practice would always be to inform / consult with parents regarding their children, but this may be detrimental in some cases. It may not always be in the child's best interests to inform parents and each case should be considered on it's own merits.

The outcome of the MACSE Meeting will be for a CSE plan of action to safeguard the victim and target the perpetrator. This plan of action will also identify and direct the involvement of other agencies not yet involved who may assist in further reducing the risk of harm.

Each case must be reviewed at the MACSE meeting three months after the initial hearing. 

Looked After Children placed in Knowsley from Other Local Authorities (OLA)

If a child is placed in Knowsley by another local authority and there are CSE concerns, the referrer will need to complete a MARF and the CSE Form 1 and refer to the Knowsley MASH team. See referral pathway in: Appendix 1a: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC.

Upon receipt of the referral a MASH social worker will make immediate contact with the placing authority and dependent on the level of risk make a decision in consultation with the MASH Team Manager and CSE Team Manager about the next course of intervention to protect and safeguard the young person.

All information concerning a child from another local authority placed in Knowsley must be shared with the MASH team and CSE team. The removal of the child from Knowsley does not lessen the risk for other children living in Knowsley.

POLICE - Intelligence and Information Gathering

In general terms any information that relates to an identifiable individual where CSE or vulnerability to CSE is a concern then a formal referral should be generated. There will be other pieces of information that professionals may have heard 3rd hand or have been passed to them in their dealings with other young people.

The police can use this information to learn more about the enablers for CSE and identify how they can remove those enablers to enhance the safety of children and young people. Examples here may be:

  • The use of a particular off-licence by young people to secure alcohol or where they go to consume it;
  • It may be a website or social network platform they use to contact each other or have been contacted on;
  • A particular meeting location that is mentioned where the police can focus some engagement or diversionary work.

Any such information should be included within the referral to the Shield CSE Team if it is linked to an identified child or young person. If there is no such associated link then the information can be provided on the Knowsley CSE Team Intelligence Form (see Appendix 4: Police Information/Intelligence Form) and forwarded via secure email to:


Another way of reporting intelligence is through the Partnership Automated Intelligence Report system (PAIR). To access the system: 

  • Call: 0151 777 8100 - from a mobile phone or landline;
  • The caller will be connected to an automated recording system that will ask the caller to 'dial 1' if they work for Merseyside Police or 'dial 2' if they work for a partner agency;
  • The caller will then be asked to give their name, organisation name and what the intelligence report is they wish to submit;
  • The call will then be concluded after the caller is asked how they know this intelligence;
  • Intelligence can be reported to PAIR 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year;
  • Urgent information should be directed to 101 or 999. You may be re-contacted to complete a formal referral if appropriate;
  • The PAIR is an automated system where the public/professionals can leave intelligence. This process does not replace using the referral pathways.


If there is a complaint to be made against a worker it is the responsibility of the complainant to request a copy of the agency complaints procedure and progress accordingly. 

Appendix 1a: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC

Click here to view Appendix 1a: CSE Referral for Children Not Known to CSC.

Appendix 1b: CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC

Click here to view Appendix 1b: CSE Referral for Open Cases to CSC.

Appendix 2: CSE Form 1 and Guidance Notes

The CSE 1 should be used by all professionals who have concerns that a child is at risk of, or currently being abused through CSE. It is designed to be completed quickly and without too much detailed recording.

It is designed to help professionals reflect on their concerns, determine whether the child may be at risk of CSE and to help structure a referral to children's social care.

If a referral is to be made, (for cases not open to children social care) the completed CSE 1 should accompany the multi-agency referral form (MARF) referral.

If the young person is open to an allocated social worker the CSE Form 1 must be completed and sent to the MASH Team where the referral will be directed to the allocated Social Worker and Shield Multi-Agency CSE Team.

The CSE Form 1 should not be seen as a rigid document. Professionals should use their professional judgment when completing the form. The circumstances of incidents and any other information must be recorded. It is important to reflect and record your observations in these notes.

The CSE 1 is primarily designed for use when there are concerns about a child aged 10 -17 years but may also be used for younger children if the professional thinks it would be useful.

It is important to note that the CSE Form 1 is designed for both early identification of signs that a child may be at risk of child sexual exploitation and when a preventative response may be appropriate and to also identify children who are already being abused through child sexual exploitation.

If you need any support or clarification when completing the CSE Form 1 please contact the Shield CSE Team for advice.

Click here to access CSE Form 1.

Appendix 3: Child Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool & MACSE Plan - CSE2 – Merseyside

Guidance Notes:

Having a single way of defining when a child is at 'high', 'medium' or 'lower' risk of CSE will allow partners to develop a better perspective on the prevalence and nature of CSE across the 5 LA areas and to provide a more consistent and appropriate service to the young people at risk of, or experiencing, CSE. If used consistently it is hoped this 'measurement of risk' tool will allow teams to measure whether the risk to a young person is increasing or decreasing and so put effective measures in place to try to manage this. A 'lower' risk score does NOT mean that no action needs to be taken as the earlier the intervention the better the chances of stopping the young person slipping further into sexual exploitation or could even prevent it from occurring. 

Who completes it and when?

This is NOT a screening tool.  It is designed to measure the level of risk of CSE once some indicators have already been spotted.  It should be carried out on ALL children who have been referred to social services showing indicators of CSE. It is recommended that it is carried out in the MASH team / CSE Team / Pre MACSE / Multi agency forum including social workers and Police and in consultation with partners, to ensure all relevant information is shared.

The outcome of this measurement will be shared at the MACSE meeting, the Police will be responsible for creating (or updating) the CSE flag on their police system, for that particular young person. With regards to other flagging for other agencies, the multi-agency partners will collectively decide whether the child should be subject to a flag on their record and also when a flag should be removed. Behind the flag will be the risk level posed to that child, a general summary of rationale supporting that assessment, and the date (see Merseyside CSE Protocol for more details on flagging records).

The tool should be repeated by the lead professional whenever incidents occur which could change the level of risk to the young person.  It should also be repeated as a matter of course every 3 months. All completed versions need to be kept and NOT overwritten so that the risk to the young person can be monitored over time. Teams must show they have reduced the risk to an individual as part of their exit strategy. Any interventions that appear to help lower the risk to individuals can be shared with teams in other areas via KSCP networks. 

A discussion with the young person should also be held by the lead professional so that their wishes, their level of understanding and their willingness to engage is considered.  When a young person is hard to engage, the person with the best relationship with them should lead the work with oversight from the social worker. Remember, sexually exploited children are victims of abuse even if they don't see it as such. The lead professional should then update the multi agency forum on an ongoing basis until it is decided that a case will be closed to MACSE.

How to complete it?

Scores from the categories plus a score for your professional judgement are added together to provide a RAG rating of risk. The first page provides a summary of the scores where you can see at a glance whether the risk to that child has increased or decreased since the last time it was conducted. Fill this page in at the end. First go through the tool with multi agency partners using information provided.

Once a lead professional has been identified, the wishes and feelings of the young person should be taken into account and any amendment to risk score clearly documented.  

Data Monitoring

This Measurement tool should assist colleagues across Merseyside to consistently measure and monitor the risk to an individual young person and help you to take appropriate action.  Completing the Data Monitoring Tool on the back page will also help us compile data on the nature of CSE, spot trends as they emerge and have a more reliable indication of the prevalence of CSE in your local area as well as an idea of the type of young people who may be most at risk. Please report this information into your local SCP CSE Sub Groups every quarter so your Board can monitor this data as well as any issues that may arise in using the Measurement and Data Monitoring Tools. It's based on the Bedfordshire toolkit and includes additions suggested by colleagues across Greater Manchester who have been working with victims of CSE.

The Gold Pan Merseyside Group hope to gather data from all 5 LSCPs to build a picture of CSE across Merseyside which will enable us to tackle it more effectively.

If you would like to give us any feedback or suggestions please contact:

Click here to view 'Child Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool'.

Click here to view 'MACSE Plan'.

Appendix 4: Police Information/Intelligence Form

Click here to view Appendix 4: Police Information/Intelligence Form.

Trix procedures

Only valid for 48hrs