Child Sexual Exploitation

1. Introduction - What is Child Sexual Exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse. It can take many different forms. It can include contact or non contact activities and can take place online or in person, or a combination of each. Any child or young person can be sexually exploited, regardless of their background; both boys and girls can be abused in this way.

Often children are groomed into sexually exploitative relationships and may initially think their abuser is their 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend'. Some children are engaged in informal economies that incorporate the exchange of sex for rewards such as drugs, alcohol, money or gifts. Others may have been bullied and threatened into sexual activities by peers or gangs which is then used against them as a form of extortion and to keep them compliant.

A child may have been sexually exploited before they became looked after; others may become targets of perpetrators when they are living with you. Child sexual exploitation is NEVER the child's fault - even if there is some sort of exchange - all children under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and protected from harm.

2. Signs of Sexual Exploitation

As a foster carer you are in a good position to notice the changes in behaviour and physical signs which can indicate involvement in sexual exploitation. To keep children safe, and prevent serious harm it is important to try and identify children at risk of harm from sexual exploitation at the earliest opportunity.

Looked After Children can be more vulnerable to exploitation. The individual needs  and particular characteristics of the child such as ethnicity, culture, gender identity and sexuality, are particularly significant where child sexual exploitation is present. A risk assessment should be in place and  consider all of these factors, how these risks work together and what can be put in place to protect the child.

It can be difficult for children to tell their carers that they are being sexually exploited; initially they may not recognise that they are being abused. Once they are being sexually exploited, threats from their abusers or feeling that may be in some way to blame for their own abuse can make it difficult for young people to ask for help.

The key signs that a child or young person is being sexually exploited are:

  • Unexplained money or gifts;
  • Going missing (for short and long periods), or during the course of the school day;
  • Being distressed or withdrawn on their return home;
  • Secrecy around new friends;
  • Having additional mobile phones, or worrying use of the internet;
  • Sexual health problems, including pregnancy;
  • Changes in behaviour / emotional wellbeing;
  • Drug or alcohol misuse;
  • Secretive behaviour;
  • Involvement in criminal activity;
  • Unexplained physical injuries.

What to do if you have Concerns

You should record details of any concerns you have - as this can help identify patterns of behaviour, including potential perpetrators and other children who may be at risk. Concerns should be shared with the child's allocated social worker or the Children's Social Care Emergency Duty Team (if outside of working hours). If you have concerns that a child is in immediate danger, always ring 999.

3. What You Can Do to Support Children

When concerns about child sexual exploitation have been identified before the child comes to live with you, their Placement Plan should contain details of the day to day arrangements which have been agreed between you as foster carers and the placing authority / Fostering Service to keep the child safe.

If you have concerns that a child is being sexually exploited or is at risk of being exploited, you should always share these with the child's allocated social worker and your supervising social worker or a manager from the Fostering Service so that action can be taken to help safeguard the child. Sexual exploitation of a child who is in foster care is considered a 'significant event' and must be reported to Ofsted by the Fostering Service.

Remember if you have concerns that a child is in immediate danger, always ring 999.

Ways you can support the child

  • Building positive relationships with children in your care is vital, both to identifying sexual exploitation and supporting children through their experiences:
    • You should be supportive, non judgemental and ready to listen to children when and if they need to talk;
    • Always look beyond challenging behaviour; if children are aggressive, secretive or going missing ask yourself what might be going on in their lives?
    • Share information - When children who are known to be at risk of sexual exploitation go missing, this should be reported promptly to the police and the child's social worker so they can take action to locate them and return them to safety;
    • Whenever children who have been missing return to your home they should be made welcome and offered care and support;
    • Building good links with the child's education providers will help to ensure that you are notified promptly if a child does not arrive at their education establishment so protective can be taken.

Caring for a child who is being sexually exploited can be a stressful and upsetting experience, and you should seek support from your supervising social worker, local foster carer support groups and the child's allocated social worker.

4. Children and Young People Who go Missing

A significant number of children and young people who are being sexually exploited may go missing from your home, or their school / education provider. Some go missing frequently, and the more often they go missing, they more vulnerable they are to being sexually exploited.

If a child in your care goes missing, you should follow the guidance contained in Missing Children Procedure.

5. Training Requirements and Support

The Fostering Service should provide you with good quality training so that you know how to prevent, recognise and support a child who is being sexual exploited. As a foster carer you should receive effective support from an  all partner agencies (children's social care, education and the police) to try and disrupt the abuse as well as ensuring the child is supported and not criminalised. See Training and Development Procedure.