Child Exploitation is an umbrella term for the abuse and crimes against children.  This can take the following forms:

  • Child Sexual Exploitation
  • Child Criminal Exploitation, including County Lines
  • Peer on Peer Abuse
  • Online grooming and abuse
  • Radicalisation
  • Modern Slavery and Trafficking for the purpose of Child Exploitation

In all forms of exploitation it can sometimes appear to the untrained eye that the child or young person is complicit in their abuse.  Professionals should be actively reflecting on the language that they use, as it will impact on their interventions and their ability to engage the child / young person and their family.  A child who is exploited is not making a ‘lifestyle choice’, ‘putting themselves at risk’, or ‘engaging in risk taking behaviours’.  It is our job to identify that they are being exploited and navigating harmful environments.

It is crucial that we look at what the perpetrator(s) is gaining from the child’s exploitation and also what the child appears to gain.  This exchange could also be the ‘absence of a negative’ and this may mean that the child or young person performs an act to prevent something from happening, such as the assault of a friend / family member.

When thinking about the choices that a young person is making, please consider the fact that their choice will be constrained, ie there is a power imbalance, and a child may feel unsafe to leave the location that we feel is unsafe.

Also refer to our page on Risks From Outside the Home

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.

CSE can occur through the 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.

There are three important and recognisable elements of child sexual exploitation:

  • Children are ‘groomed’ and there is power and control held by the perpetrator/s
  • An ‘exchange’ (such as gift, food, money, drugs etc.) is present, this could be to a third party and not always to the child themselves.
  • Sexual acts or the exchange of sexual images is present.

The UK Government defines county lines as:
County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.

Child Criminal Exploitation is common in county lines and occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. (Home Office September 2018)

Modern Slavery is a serious and often hidden crime in which people are exploited for criminal gain. The impact can be devastating for the victims. Modern slavery comprises slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and human trafficking. (Home Office, 2019)

Trafficking is where children and young people are tricked, forced or persuaded to leave one place, eg their homes, and are moved or transported to another place and are then exploited, forced to work or sold. Children are trafficked for a variety of reasons including:
  • sexual exploitation
  • benefit fraud,
  • forced marriage
  • domestic slavery like cleaning, cooking and childcare
  • forced labour in factories or agriculture
  • committing crimes, like begging, theft, working on cannabis farms or moving drugs.

Healthy and Harmful Sexual Behaviour 

Many staff are familiar with the Brook Traffic Light Tool. It provides a framework for identifying whether sexual behaviour is part of healthy development or if it is a cause for concern. Following a Child Safeguarding Practice review outside Somerset, some concerns were raised about professionals’ over-reliance on the tool and a tendency to use it in a mechanistic fashion. As a result, changes have been made to the tool, and the link that you previously used may no longer work.  The Tool has been updated and relaunched in an online format but is now only available to people who have completed approved training.

The tool and training package is being considered by partners in Somerset and regionally and we will update you when this work has concluded.  In the meantime, you can still access the previous version of the tool using this link:  Brook Traffic Light Tool 

If you need any advice or guidance on situations involving the sexual behaviour of children, then please discuss with your Safeguarding Lead, or with the First Response/Early Help Hub Consultation Lines.

What is Topaz?

Topaz is a perpetrator disruption team enabling the partnership to proactively protect the highest risk Child Sexual Exploitation victims by developing opportunities to disrupt suspects.

Topaz recognises that disrupting suspects is often the most effective way of safeguarding victims of Child Sexual Exploitation.

Topaz enables timely disruption, by any means available, including directing partner agencies to intervene.

How Topaz works

Topaz generates its work by reviewing Child Sexual Exploitation risk to victims/children, risk from perpetrators and risk at locations. Topaz reviews daily business and assists frontline policing where it can.

The Topaz Prevention Officer proactively seeks out “hidden” victims through outreach work, acting upon intelligence, and targeting the kinds of groups, institutions and locations where victimisation is most likely to be occurring. The Prevention Officer is able to build relationships to develop victim confidence, build community relationships that result in improved intelligence, enable locational disruption by working with taxi drivers and hotels for example, and develop partnership working.

What you should do if you believe someone is being exploited

If you believe a child or adult is vulnerable or being exploited, you can use this form to provide intelligence or information that you think Avon and Somerset Constabulary should be aware of.

This is not a referral form or early help notification form and does not replace any pre-existing referral or notification mechanism.

Don’t forget, always use the Effective Support for Children and Families document to help inform your decision making!

pdf Child Exploitation and Extra-Familial Risk Library

This resource library includes government guidance, policies and links to useful information. This is a rolling document and will be updated regularly by the Child Exploitation Service.  Last updated April 2021. 

Child Sexual Exploitation – a quick guide 

A quick guide developed by Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Somerset Children’s Social Care on behalf of the SSCB’s Child Exploitation Strategic Subgroup. This is a core guide for all practitioners, regardless of agency, in Somerset.  Available to download as a word document, so that agencies can adapt and include their own local procedures as necessary. Updated Feb 2017.

Missing Children and Return Home Interview Process

This local guidance sets out the process for Children’s Social Care and the Family Intervention Service on the process to be followed when a child returns from being missing.  Last updated May 2020. 

 pdf Child sexual exploitation: Practice Tool  

Written by Research in Practice, commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) .  The document outlines the new civil definition of child sexual exploitation, developed by the Home Office and DfE, together with an overview of our current understanding of the issue and an evidence-informed set of principles for responding. February 2017.

pdf  Supporting Parents to Share Information on CSE

 A briefing paper produced by NWG 2019

pdf Serious Case Review Operation Brooke Overview Report

Operation Brooke Serious Case Review, including findings and recommendations.

Barnardo’s Phoenix Project – a service providing support, training, consultation and signposting to professionals supporting children, young people and families affected by child sexual abuse (CSA)

pdf  Languaging Child and Adolescent Vulnerability – Hackney Contextual Safeguarding Project

Guide to language and terms that should be used when discussing or recording Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Criminal Exploitation and includes a list of alternative, appropriately worded phrases and narratives.

 pdf  Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy 2017-19

February 2021: The SSCP Child Exploitation subgroup is being supported by Research in Practice to develop a needs assessment to refresh the existing strategy in recognition of emerging gaps and a focus on three key areas:

  • Prevention
  • Transitions
  • Pathways

It is anticipated that this strategy refresh will be complete by summer 2021. For further information, please contact  

This section provides practitioners with resources suitable for children and young people, and parents/carers to find out more about child sexual exploitation and associated issues.

Resources for Children/Young People

Barnardo’s BASE project – The Bristol BASE (Barnardo’s Against Sexual Exploitation) Hub and Spokes Project works with children and young people across our local region providing specialist sexual exploitation work.

SWISH – Somerset-wide Integrated Sexual Health Services

The Survivor Pathway – The survivor pathway is primarily a guide for anyone wanting to know more about specialist sexual violence services.

Somerset Survivors – information on other services which can offer support and advice regarding domestic abuse and sexual violence, together with those which can help with related issues.

Unseen – An organisation working towards a world without slavery.

Thinkuknow – Come in to find the latest information on the sites you like to visit, mobiles and new technology. Find out what’s good, what’s not and what you can do about it.

Faceup2it – Join us in the fight against Child Sexual Exploitation.

Resources for Parents/Carers

PaceUK – Pace is the leading national charity working with parents and carers of sexually exploited children.

MOSAC – Mosac is a voluntary organisation supporting all non-abusing parents and carers whose children have been sexually abused. We provide various types of support services and information for parents, carers and professionals dealing with child sexual abuse.

Thinkuknow/Parents – Protect your children from abuse online, help your children get the most out of the internet, keep your children safe

The Children’s Society ‘What to do if your child goes missing’ leaflet

Stop it Now! – Stop it Now! UK and Ireland is at the forefront of activity to prevent child sexual abuse. Campaigning and awareness-raising are essential tasks for local, regional and national projects in order to empower and enable adults to address personal, family and community concerns.

CE Tools

Child Exploitation Initial Screening Tool, updated May 2018

Child Exploitation Analysis and Decision Making Tool, updated May 2018

Somerset have a shared response across agencies as to how we identify and assess risk and vulnerability in relation to a Child’s experience of Exploitation.

The first document is an initial screening tool, which helps you to consider the known risks and vulnerabilities identified in Child Exploitation. It will also support you to find out more information that may be missing from your knowledge of the child/ young person’s current situation.

The second tool is designed to support your analysis and decision making and help you to decide what response the young person requires from the various children’s services in Somerset.

These documents are not limited to Child Sexual Exploitation and should also support you to identify child criminal exploitation. These documents should be informed by multiple sources and include the voice of the child. These tools should not ‘screen out’ children, for example, if there is only one element of risk identified in the screening tool, but it is highly significant, please continue to use your professional judgement and work in line with Somerset’s Child Protection Procedures, use the guidance in the effective support document and contact the police in an emergency. Please discuss your assessment with your Child Exploitation Champion/ Designated Safeguarding Lead.

What is good practice?

‘Professionals should draw on evidence and research as well as support from their supervisors/managers, apply professional judgement and be supported to critically reflect on the information gathered. Above all, professionals should listen to children and young people and strive to see the world through their eyes, while recognising that the child or young person’s perception may be clouded by the abusive nature of their experience.’

(Beckett, Holmes and Walker 29:2017)

When completing your screening and analysis of exploitation, you should be considering the following:

  1. What does this young person need?
  2. What does this young person need me to think about?
  3. What does this young person need me to do?
  4. How will I know risks are reducing?
  5. What support do I need?