Child sexual exploitation

The Department for Education (2012) defines child sexual exploitation (CSE) as ‘a form of child abuse which involves children and young people (male and female, of a range of ethnic origins and ages, in some cases as young as 10) receiving something in exchange for sexual activity. Perpetrators of child sexual exploitation are found in all parts of the country and are not restricted to particular ethnic groups’.

It has been acknowledged by Ofsted (2015) that until recently, CSE has not been recognised or responded to in a sufficiently skilled or robust manner by local authorities and partner agencies. This is evidenced by events in Rochdale, Rotherham and a number of other local authorities nationally which have received significant media coverage.

Locally, this led to the establishment of the Tees-wide Vulnerable, Exploited, Missing, and Trafficked (VEMT) arrangements in early 2013.

The arrangements are overseen by the Tees Strategic VEMT Group, which is a sub group of the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) in each area and is chaired by a Detective Superintendent from Cleveland Police. The Tees Strategic VEMT Group is responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring the CSE Strategy and Action Plan.

The four strategic aims of VEMT are identified as:

  • Prepare
  • Prevent
  • Protect
  • Pursue

The Tees Strategic VEMT Group is underpinned by a VEMT Sub Group in each of the four areas. In Stockton-on-Tees this is chaired by the Head of Safeguarding and Looked After Children with representation from a wide range of agencies including Children's Social Care, Education, Health, Police, Probation, Community Safety and Licensing. The VEMT Sub Group is responsible for implementing the CSE Strategy and Action Plan within the borough.

The VEMT Sub Group is also responsible for overseeing the work of the VEMT Practitioners’ Group (VPG). The VPG is chaired by a Service Manager from the Safeguarding and Looked After Children Service and is attended by those agencies working directly with children and young people who may be at risk of CSE. In addition to considering the potential victims of CSE, intelligence about suspected perpetrators and known venues is also shared.

Last updated: 2015-12-10 12:12:37
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1. What are the key issues?

The NSPCC has recently published research regarding the prevalence of child abuse within the UK. The key findings are as follows:

  • All four countries in the UK have seen the number of recorded sexual offences against children increase over the last year.
  • There has been an increase in contacts to the NSPCC helpline and ChildLine about sexual abuse.
  • Neglect remains the most common form of child abuse in the UK.
  • The number of children dying as a result of homicide or assault remains in long term decline.

Although CSE is not a new phenomenon, it has risen to prominence recently following a range of high profile cases nationally. Locally, this led to the development of the VEMT arrangements in 2013 in order to respond to this challenge. Consequently the arrangements for tackling and reporting on CSE are still relatively new and there is a lack of longitudinal data to indicate the prevalence of CSE and the success of the VEMT arrangements in addressing the issue in Stockton-on-Tees.

Last updated: 03/09/15

2. What commissioning priorities are recommended?

The following recommendations arose from the Children and Young People Select Committee Task and Finish Review of CSE and will therefore form the priorities for service development in 2015/16:

1. That the number, membership and accountability arrangements for the VEMT groups/SLSCB be reviewed to ensure that all appropriate agencies and providers are represented, avoid unnecessary duplication and any conflicts of interest and that the outcome of the review be reported back to Children and Young People Select Committee as part of the forthcoming review of the LSCB.

2. That the LSCB consider formal mechanisms for sharing information from the VEMT groups including how best to raise awareness with the wider voluntary and community sector, including the Faith Community.

3. That consideration be given to developing early support services for children at risk of CSE as part of the Early Help Strategy and Implementation Plan.

4. That the Health and Wellbeing Board be asked to consider and commission appropriate prioritised services for children at risk of CSE.

5. That awareness raising activities be developed for children and young people in respect of social media and healthy relationships as well as work with parents and via schools.

6. That the LSCB ensure that a multi-agency co-ordinated training strategy be developed to:

  • Map out current provision
  • Identify any gaps
  • Identify who should receive training, frequency of training and assurance mechanisms
  • Introduce mandatory safeguarding training for Elected Members (including CSE)

7. That CSE should feature in regular performance reports to Cabinet and Children and Young People Select Committee as part of quarterly performance updates.

8. That information about the prevalence of CSE be included within the JSNA together with appropriate commissioning decisions and priorities.

9. That work is commissioned, accepting the challenges, to obtain feedback from children as part of further assurance work.

10. That the revised VEMT Strategy and Action Plan and strengthened performance and quality assurance framework be subject to further scrutiny together with the internal audit of CSE case files and the outcome of  benchmarking work against the Ofsted thematic report recommendations as part of the scrutiny review of the LSCB.

11. That this report is submitted to the LSCB for their consideration.

Last updated: 03/09/15

3. Who is at risk and why?

CSE involves situations, contexts and relationships where a child or young person under the age of 18 (or a third party) receives something eg food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts or money as a result of them performing a sexual act and/or others performing a sexual act on them.

The victims of CSE can be male and female, from a range of different ethnic origins and living in different parts of the country.

A common feature of CSE is that the child or young person does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation.

Children and young people at risk of CSE are likely to:

  • go missing for periods of time or regularly come home late
  • regularly miss school or education or not take part in education
  • appear with unexplained gifts or new possessions
  • associate with other children and young people involved in CSE
  • have older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • suffer from sexually transmitted infections
  • have mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing
  • misuse alcohol and/or drugs
  • display inappropriate sexualised behaviour
Last updated: 03/09/15

4. What is the level of need in the population?

In Stockton-on-Tees, 51 individual children and young people were considered by VPG during 2014/15, as compared with 61 during 2013/14.

There were 43 girls and 8 boys in 2014/15, as compared with 46 girls and 15 boys during 2013/14.

The age breakdown is as follows:


2013/14 - No.

2014/15 - No.
































There were 47 children and young people assessed as being at risk of CSE out of the 51 considered by VPG during 2014/15. This compares with 42 out of 61 in 2013/14.

The risk breakdown during 2014/15 was as follows:

High risk - 15

Medium risk - 32

This information is not available for 2013/14 as the current risk assessment tool was not introduced until 2014/15.

During 2014/15 there have been two disclosures of CSE made by children and young people. There were no disclosures during 2013/14.

Last updated: 03/09/15

5. What services are currently provided?

Addressing CSE issues can form an integral part of the intervention by all Stockton-on-Tees Local Safeguarding Children Board (SLSCB) member agencies with children, young people and their families within the borough. CSE issues can occur in cases being considered under Common Assessment Framework (CAF), Children in Need and Child Protection arrangements.           

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council commission Barnardo’s to provide the Against Child Exploitation (ACE) Project which provides a comprehensive support service to children and young people under the age of 18 (or in the case of Looked After Children (LAC) and Care Leavers up to the age of 25), who may be at risk of or who are being sexually exploited or need support having run away from home or care. The service is available to all children and young people who live in Stockton-on-Tees or those placed in accommodation outside the borough by Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council.

The service:

  • Offers one to one support to children and young people who are either at risk of or involved in CSE and/or are missing from home or care.
  • Acts in an advocacy role to children and young people.
  • Provides outreach work to children and young people who are either at risk of or involved in sexual exploitation.
  • Conducts group work with children and young people to raise awareness of safeguarding issues in respect of CSE.
  • Offers information to children and young people and, where appropriate, their families and carers to better enable self-protection and to encourage positive decision making.
  • Contributes to VEMT arrangements.
  • Works with identified children and young people and, where appropriate, their families and carers to reduce risk and improve their outcomes.
  • Assists and supports children and young people and, where appropriate, their families and carers in developing prevention and exit strategies.
  • Supports the detection, prosecution and disruption of those involved in CSE.
  • Increases awareness of CSE amongst  social care professionals and acts in an advisory capacity.

At any given time there are around 19 children and young people accessing this service in Stockton-on-Tees.

In addition CSE forms an integral part of the Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) curriculum delivered within schools and academies within Stockton-on-Tees.

Last updated: 03/09/15

6. What is the projected level of need?

The number of children and young people subject to VEMT arrangements has been relatively consistent over the last two years.

It is therefore considered likely that the current level of need will continue for the foreseeable future.

Last updated: 03/09/15

7. What needs might be unmet?

It is hoped that all agencies working with children in Stockton-on-Tees are now more confident in terms of being able to recognise the signs and symptoms of CSE and bring cases to VPG for further discussion. Although it is not possible to gauge the level of unmet need with any degree of certainty, it is considered unlikely that there are large numbers of children and young people at risk of CSE that we are not already aware of.

Last updated: 03/09/15

8. What evidence is there for effective intervention?

Given that targeted approaches to tackling CSE are still relatively new, there is limited evidence about ‘what works’.

Following a thematic review across 8 local authorities nationally and drawing on feedback from over 150 children and young people, Ofsted (2015) concluded that ‘children and young people are more effectively protected from child sexual exploitation when LSCBs have an effective strategy and action plan that supports professionals to work together and share information well. This activity, when combined with a whole system approach of awareness raising, the early identification of both victims and perpetrators and disruption and prosecution, is the only route to the effective protection of children and young people from child sexual exploitation in our towns and cities’.

These principles underpin the VEMT arrangements across Tees.

Last updated: 03/09/15

9. What do people say?

Obtaining the views of children and young people who are experiencing CSE is exceptionally difficult as typically the children and young people do not see themselves as victims so are therefore unwilling to engage in discussions based on this premise. The focus of work with children and young people who are considered to be at risk of, or who have experienced, CSE is based on helping them to see the behaviour of someone who they may regard as a boyfriend or girlfriend as exploitative in nature.

We are currently in the process of working with Barnardo’s to develop mechanisms for seeking the views of children and young people and young adults who have experienced CSE previously in order that this can help to influence and shape future service delivery.

Last updated: 03/09/15

10. What additional needs assessment is required?

Whilst the number of children and young people considered to be at risk of CSE is relatively stable, this will continue to be closely monitored through VEMT arrangements.

It is considered that there is an appropriate level of service provision to respond to the current level of need, although more work needs to be done to identify children and young people at an earlier stage when low level risks begin to emerge regarding behaviour, relationships and use of social media. This will enable the development of additional services to respond to these needs.

Last updated: 03/09/15

Key contact: Mr Shaun McLurg

Job title: Head of Safeguarding and Looked After Children


Phone number: 01642527049


Local strategies and plans:

Tees CSE Multi-Agency Strategy 2015-17

Tees Strategic CSE Action Plan 2015

Children and Young People Select Committee Task and Finish Review of CSE 2015

National strategies and plans:

‘Safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation’ DCSF 2009

‘What to do if you suspect a child is being sexually exploited’ DfE 2012

‘The sexual exploitation of children: it couldn’t happen here, could it?’ Ofsted 2015

Other references:

‘How Safe Are Our Children’ NSPCC 2015