3.2 Children who are Exploited


HIPS Child Exploitation and Extra-Familial Harm Strategy

Download the HIPS Child Exploitation and Extra-Familial Harm Strategy

Here is a short overview of the strategy


HIPS Exploitation Resources for Professionals

These resources have been developed and agreed for use across all four of the HIPS LSCP areas. Professionals should use these tools with any child who is thought to be at risk of or known to be at risk of one or more forms of exploitation.

The full CERAF (Child Exploitation Risk Assessment Framework) is for use by all professionals from all agencies across HIPS.  Where frontline practitioners do not have the time to complete the CERAF, they may use the CSERQ4 form (for health professionals) or choose to complete a normal initial referral to the MASH.  It is important that any risks are referred in a timely fashion and not delayed in order to fully complete these forms.

The accompanying guidance has been developed to support professionals in using and completing the CERAF.

A CERAF should be completed as soon as potential concerns regarding any form of child exploitation are identified. This may include Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE), County Lines (CL), Modern Day Slavery (MDS) or Child Trafficking concerns. The concerns may arise from information following a missing episode, or increased occasions of a child missing from school, staying out late, associating with new peers/associates where there may be some concerns or known intelligence of risk. Where possible a CERAF should accompany the referral to Children Services and Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs to enable information to be assessed against information held with partner agencies.

The CSERQ4 (Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Questionnaire) is intended to help health practitioners who have ‘time limited’ contact with children in assessing a child’s risk and to support their professional judgement on deciding when to make a child protection referral.  

Any child is potentially at risk of CSE but children who might be at increased risk include those between the ages of 10 – 17 years with one or more of the following:

  • Contraception or STI testing/treatment (including emergency contraception/pregnancy testing)
  • Pregnancy
  • Drug or alcohol problems or overdose
  • Self-harm
  • Disclosure of sexual assault or sexual activity that raises concern
  • Domestic violence in the home

Other resources 

Leicestershire Police have created a video on raising awareness of CCE.

Contextual Safeguarding

As well as threats to the welfare of children from within their families, children may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from outside their families. 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. These threats 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; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation. Extremist groups make use of the internet to radicalise and recruit and to promote extremist materials. Any potential harmful effects to individuals identified as vulnerable to extremist ideologies or being drawn into terrorism should also be considered.

Assessments of children in such cases should consider whether wider environmental factors are present in a child’s life and are a threat to their safety and/or welfare. Children who may be alleged perpetrators should also be assessed to understand the impact of contextual issues on their safety and welfare. Interventions should focus on addressing these wider environmental factors, which are likely to be a threat to the safety and welfare of a number of different children who may or may not be known to local authority children’s social care. Assessments of children in such cases should consider the individual needs and vulnerabilities of each child. They should look at the parental capacity to support the child, including helping the parents and carers to understand any risks and support them to keep children safe and assess potential risk to child.

Working Together 2018 P23

Further Resources on Contextual Safeguarding

Child Sexual Exploitation


Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse.

It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity

(a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or

(b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.

The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. 

Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. 

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018)

See also Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (DfE 2017). This advice is non-statutory, and has been produced to help practitioners to identify child sexual exploitation and take appropriate action in response. This advice includes the management, disruption and prosecution of perpetrators.


The following are examples of the types of things children can experiene that might make them more susceptible to child sexual exploitation:

  • 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;
  • Social isolation or social difficulties;
  • Absence of a safe environment to explore sexuality;
  • Economic vulnerability;
  • Homelessness or insecure accommodation status;
  • Connections with other children and young people who are being sexually exploited;
  • Family members or other connections involved in adult sex work;
  • Having a physical or learning disability;
  • Being in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories); and
  • Sexual identity.

The impact of early neglect and trauma can cross every area of children’s lives, negatively affecting their capacity to learn basic self-regulatory skills, develop a moral sense, manage a formal educational environment and make close, trusting relationships. 

The level of trauma is often associated to Adverse Child Experiences (ACE’s). The more ACEs a child endures, the greater the risk of them having physical and mental health problems later in life.

Trauma-informed practice recognises the prevalence of trauma and its impact on the emotional, psychological and social wellbeing of people, recognising and responding by enabling changes in behaviour, strengthening resilience and empower individuals to res-establish control of their lives.

Potential indicators

Children rarely self-report child sexual exploitation so it is important that practitioners are aware of potential indicators of risk, including:

  • Acquisition of money, clothes, mobile phones etc without plausible explanation;
  • Gang-association and/or isolation from peers/social networks;
  • Exclusion or unexplained absences from school, college or work;
  • Leaving home/care without explanation and persistently going missing or returning late;
  • Excessive receipt of texts/phone calls;
  • Returning home under the influence of drugs/alcohol;
  • Inappropriate sexualised behaviour for age/sexually transmitted infections;
  • Evidence of/suspicions of physical or sexual assault;
  • Relationships with controlling or significantly older individuals or groups;
  • Multiple callers (unknown adults or peers);
  • Frequenting areas known for sex work;
  • Concerning use of internet or other social media;
  • Increasing secretiveness around behaviours; and
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being.

Practitioners should also remain open to the fact that child sexual exploitation can occur without any of these risk indicators being obviously present. Practitioners should also be alert to the fact that some risk assessments have been constructed around indicators of face-to-face perpetration by adults and may not adequately capture online or peerperpetrated forms of harm. It is also important to remember that risk assessments only capture risk at the point of assessment and that levels of risk vary over time, and that the presence of these indicators may be explained by other forms of vulnerability rather than child sexual exploitation. The first step for practitioners is to be alert to the potential signs of abuse and neglect and to understand the procedures set out by local multi-agency safeguarding arrangements.


How to respond

Where the concerns about the welfare and safety of the child are such that a referral to Children's Social Care should be made the Referrals Procedure must be followed.

Working Together to Safeguard Children requires that following a referral Children's Social Care should ensure that the needs of all children who are being, or who are at risk of being, sexually exploited are assessed and that appropriate multi-agency engagement and interventions are undertaken. The duties under the Children Act 1989 apply to all children under the age of 18 years. Children's Social Care should also be alert to the possibility of sexual exploitation of children who are already in receipt of services.

For pregnancy in children under the age of 13, refer to the HIPS pathway


Further information

Children affected by Gang Activity

Criminal exploitation occurs where children are manipulated or coerced into committing crimes.

A significant concern across HIPS is the involvement of children and young persons in the distribution of drugs.  There are criminal networks local to Hampshire who exploit young persons or this exploitation could be through 'County Lines', a term used to explain gangs and organised crime groups from London and other areas using children and young people to traffic drugs. (For more information, see here

Criminal exploitation can occur outside of gangs however this is often a common feature.

It is important for professionals and parents to understand some of the wider behaviours associated with gang membership, so they are able to effectively identify any emerging concerns.

Definition of a gang

Being part of a friendship group is a normal part of growing up and it can be common for groups of children and young people to gather together in public places to socialise. Belonging to such a group can form a positive and normal part of young people’s growth and development. These groups should be distinguished from ‘street gangs’ for whom crime and violence are a core part of their identity, although ‘delinquent peer groups’ can also lead to increased antisocial behaviour and youth offending. Although some group gatherings can lead to increased antisocial behaviour and youth offending, these activities should not be confused with the serious violence of a gang. (Safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity)

Gangs tend to fall into three categories:

  • Organised criminal group − A group of individuals for whom involvement in crime is for personal gain (financial or otherwise). For most, however, crime is their 'occupation'. These groups operate almost exclusively in the grey and illegal marketplace where market transactions are totally unregulated by the law.
  • 'Street' Gang – Relatively durable group who have a collective identity and meet frequently. They are predominantly street-based groups of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identity.
  • Peer group – A relatively small, unorganised and transient group composed of peers who share the same space and a common history. Involvement in crime will be mostly non-serious in nature and not integral to the identity of the group. School children will usually be part of a peer group.

There is often a distinct but fluid hierarchy in gangs, with individuals moving up and down the structure over time, with seniority arising from length of service in the gang. Rather than specifying what role a young person is playing in the gang, the guidance refers to those already involved in gangs and those at risk of becoming involved in gangs or being affected by gang-related activity.

Hallsworth S and Young T (2004) Getting Real About Gangs

Risks to young person of being involved in a gang

The statutory guidance, Safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity, outlines the risks of gang-related activity:

  • Violence and weapons. Young people who are involved in gangs are more likely to suffer harm themselves, through retaliatory violence, displaced retaliation, territorial violence with other gangs or other harm suffered whilst committing a crime. Young people involved in gangs are more likely to possess and use weapons, both knives and guns, than non-gang members.
  • Drugs. Many gang members also deal in drugs as a way to make money, either to fund their own use of drugs or for financial gain in its own right. The use of drugs by gang members again varies from area to area, with some gang members selling drugs but not using them themselves. This again brings gang members into contact with organised crime and can increase the threat of violence and violent situations to which members are exposed. 
  • Female gang members. The majority of gang members are male, although there are a number of female gang members or female gangs. Girls tend to be less willing than boys to identify themselves as gang members but tend to be drawn into male gangs as girlfriends of existing members. In such cases girls are more likely to be marginal, often being used to carry or stash weapons and drugs. It is not known the extent to which girls in gangs are subject to violence or pressure to have sex, although girls may be particularly vulnerable in some contexts.
  • Sexual exploitation. Rape by gang members, as a form of retaliation or as an act of violence in itself, is said to occur quite frequently in some areas and reports to the police are rare due to fear of intimidation or reprisal. Female relatives of gang members could also be at particular risk of either being under pressure to have sex with gang members or of being the victim of sexual violence by another gang.
  • Violent extremism. Experience suggests that young people from their teenage years onwards can be particularly vulnerable to getting involved with radical groups, through direct contact with members or, increasingly, through the Internet. This can put a young person at risk of being drawn in to criminal activity and has the potential to cause significant harm
  • Victims. Often those young people who become offenders in gangs following victimisation have similar risk factors to those who become involved in gangs more generally. Causes of the leap from victimisation to offending can include a retaliative attack on the offender or gang, joining a rival gang to seek revenge, or making friends or joining the offending gang or other gang to seek protection.

Identification of young people involved with Gang Activity

The signs of potential involvement in gang activity include:

  • Child withdrawn from family
  • Sudden loss of interest in school or change in behaviour. Decline in attendance or academic achievement
  • Starting to use new or unknown slang words
  • Holds unexplained money or possessions
  • Stays out unusually late without reason
  • Sudden change in appearance - dressing in a particular style or 'uniform' similar to that of other young people they hang around with, including a particular colour
  • Dropping out of positive activities
  • New nickname
  • Unexplained physical injuries
  • Graffiti style 'tags' on possessions, schoolbooks, walls
  • Constantly talking about another young person who seems to have a lot of influence over them
  • Breaking off with old friends and hanging around with one group of people
  • Increased use of social networking sites
  • Starting to adopt certain codes of group behaviour e.g. ways of talking and hand signs
  • Expressing aggressive or intimidating views towards other groups of young people, some of whom may have been friends in the past
  • Scared when entering certain areas
  • Concerned by the presence of unknown youths in their neighbourhoods


Referral and assessment of Children and Young Persons who may be involved in Gang activity and/or Criminal Exploitation

Any agency or individual practitioner who has concerns that a child may be at risk of harm as a consequence of gang activity including child criminal exploitation should contact Children's Social Care or the police. The Referrals Procedure should be followed. 

If there is a risk to the life of the child or a likelihood of serious significant harm, agencies should secure the immediate safety of the child. Agencies with statutory child protection powers (local authorities, the police and the NSPCC) should act quickly to safeguard the child from immediate harm. Where there is a risk to the life of a child or the likelihood of significant harm, emergency action might be necessary to secure their immediate safety. 


Immediate need for protection

Any agency or individual practitioner who has immediate concerns to protect a child that may be at risk, to contact police directly. The police in attendance can exercise police protection powers under Section 46 Child Act 1989. This is an emergency power, which allow any police officer to protect a child who is reasonably believed to be at risk of significant harm.


Risk of harm to practitioners

Practitioners should be aware of any potential threats to a social worker’s safety during interaction with a child before, or during, the undertaking of enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 and should make a decision on the suitability of a home visit. It may be more appropriate to interview the child and/or parents and carers in a neutral setting.

The risk of harm may also exist for other practitioners, who may be visiting a household without knowledge of the gang context, or to follow up concerns about a child’s involvement in gangs. Information-sharing about high-risk families and individuals (such as those who carry lethal weapons) should be considered across all agencies that might have interaction with that individual, such as health, children’s social care and the police. This should be submitted to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub referral process to enable information to be assessed and shared with practitioners to enable organisational risk assessments to be undertaken prior to attendance to any engagement with the individuals.

Further information on Child Criminal Exploitation and Gang Activity


Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation including Children from Abroad

This page is correct as printed on Tuesday 21st of May 2024 08:41:59 AM please refer back to this website (http://hipsprocedures.org.uk) for updates.