Share Cymraeg English

Safeguarding children from child sexual exploitation (cse)


Last updated: February 2021

To be used in conjunction with the Wales Safeguarding Procedures

Who is this practice guide for?

This guide is primarily for practitioners working with children (up to the age of 18).

This includes those working in early years, social care, education, health, the police, youth offending and youth, community and family support services (including the third sector) and foster care and residential care.

What is this guide for?

Safeguarding children is a responsibility shared by everyone in contact with children.

The Wales Safeguarding Procedures support individuals and agencies across Wales to understand their roles and responsibilities in keeping children and adults safe. They support a consistent approach to safeguarding practice and procedures.

This practice guide provides additional information about safeguarding responses where a child is at risk of abuse through Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). It should be used in conjunction with the Wales Safeguarding Procedures.

Effective safeguarding arrangements in every local authority area should be underpinned by two key principles:

There are some issues which are common across safeguarding practice guides and some which are specific to the safeguarding issue being considered:


Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) -

Is a form of sexual abuse
That can include sex or any form of sexual activity with a child; the production of indecent images and/or any other indecent material involving children.

Involves a child
It occurs to those up to the age of 18 years old.

Involves some form of exchange
The exchange can include the giving or withdrawal of something; such as the withdrawal of violence or threats to abuse another person.

There may be a facilitator who receives something in addition to or instead of the child who is exploited.

Children may not recognise the exploitative nature of the relationship or exchange. Children may feel that they have given consent.

Evidence base

Online exploitation does not always lead to contact abuse (the child may not ever meet the person abusing them) but does cause great harm to the child. Technology can also facilitate the offline sexual exploitation of children. Offenders also use social media to identify young people whom they can groom for CSE, they may use threats to share content or images of the child that they have procured on-line as a way of exercising control over a child and they may use technology to communicate with the child in order to facilitate offline abuse through CSE.

An All Wales Practice Guide- safeguarding children from online abuse is available with the Wales Safeguarding Procedures.

Identifying and reporting Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Prompt for practitioners

This prompt provides some information to assist in the consistent identification of CSE. When considering risk of CSE it is crucial that a child-centred approach which considers the holistic needs of the child is taken. Risk management should only be one element of the response to children’s care and support needs where CSE is a concern.

Everyone who works with children should be alert to the signs that a child is being sexually exploited and understand their duty to report a child at risk. Speak to your manager or safeguarding lead about any concerns you have and make a child protection referral to your local authority Social Services. If you suspect a child is at immediate risk of harm you should phone the Police on 999.

Physical signs: bruising, unexplained injuries, sexually transmitted diseases.

Emotional signs: withdrawn, extreme mood changes, angry, self harm, suicidal, disengaged.

Material signs: mobile phone/ technological equipment, clothing/ footwear, regularly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, in possession of money, when there is no reasonable explanation for how they have attained or paid for these things.

Behavioural signs: secretive, periods of going missing, getting in or out of cars driven by unknown adults, described as out of control or as having risky behaviour by their family, carers or by practitioners, concerns about the way in which the child uses their mobile phone or the internet.

There is a statutory Duty to Report Children at Risk on relevant partners under Section 130 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 Safeguarding Summary This means making a referral to Social Services where you have any concerns that a child is at risk. You should ensure you understand the process for making a referral to Social Services and what information they will require - talk to your manager.

If you work in a health setting and have limited knowledge of the child you can use the Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Questionnaire (CSERQ) to inform your decision about making a child protection referral.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse which involves an element of exchange between the abused child and the person perpetrating the abuse.

Children (that means anyone up to the age of 18 years) who are abused in this way are unlikely to tell anyone about what is happening to them. The reasons for this are complicated and could be because they are frightened of what will happen if they tell, because they do not recognise that they are being abused, because they fear that they won’t be believed or will be judged or because they feel that they are exercising control over what is happening to them in some way.

As with all forms of child abuse, CSE can happen to any child. However we know that some children may be particularly vulnerable. This includes children who have unstable home or care experiences, children who have experienced abuse in earlier childhood, children with low self esteem and children who are experiencing problems with education, mental health, alcohol/drug misuse or offending behaviour. There is evidence that children with additional learning needs or functioning difficulties may be particularly vulnerable. CSE happens to boys and young men as well as to girls and young women. There is evidence of additional barriers to disclosure and identification for some children including Black, Asian, Ethnic Minority (BAME) children; disabled children and LQBT+ children.

The way in which exploitation is understood by the child will vary from child to child. Children can fail to recognise their experiences as exploitative. However, many children do understand that they are being exploited but may still struggle to disclose or seek help because of stigma or because the thing they are receiving in exchange for the abuse is important to them. Some children may understand that they are being exploited but still perceive the exploitation as the best option available to them within the context of constrained choices. Some children may accept abuse as a normal part of life or feel that it is deserved because of their earlier experiences of abuse or feelings of worthlessness.

As with any form of child abuse it is essential that practitioners act on their concerns. We know that different people involved in a child’s life may all have different pieces of information or concerns which in isolation may seem to be worrying but not warrant further investigation, but when put together these concerns can evidence that the child has care and support needs.

Children identified as at risk of CSE should have any care and support needs considered in order to prevent abuse. Abuse through CSE is usually (but not always) extra-familial. This provides an opportunity to work with parent/carers and families to keep the child safe and to meet care and support needs in a way that will reduce risk of CSE. However, practitioners should also be alert to any safeguarding or care and support issues within the family.

A proportionate response

When a child has been reported under section 130, the local authority must consider whether there are grounds for carrying out an investigation under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Planning for a child as they reach the age of 18


These organisations are there for all children and young people in Wales. Practitioners should let children know about these organisations and how to contact them.

Meic is the helpline service for children and young people up to the age of 25 in Wales. From finding out what’s going on in your local area to help dealing with a tricky situation, Meic will listen even when no-one else will. They won’t judge you and will help by giving you information, useful advice and the support you need to make a change. You can:

You can contact the Children's Commissioner for Wales Investigation and Advice service which is free and confidential. It’s there as a source of help and support if children and young people or those who care for them feel that a child’s been treated unfairly. You or you parent/carer can:

Childline is a free, private and confidential service where anyone under 19 can access support and advice. The Childline website has information and advice pages as well as tools to help you work through problems yourself. If you want to talk or chat to Childline you can:

If you want to talk to Childline in Welsh see

Certain frontline staff who encounter a potential victim modern slavery or human trafficking have a duty to notify the Home Office under Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 This requirement applies to the Police, Local Authorities, the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters Labour and Abuse Authority. Supporting guidance and resources have been issued in relation to the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

1 Hallett, S. (2017) Making sense of child sexual exploitation: exchange, abuse and young people. Bristol: Policy Press.

2 Fox, C. and Kalkan, G. (2016) Barnardo’s Survey on Online Grooming Barkingside: Barnardo’s


4 Barnardo’s Cymru – Boys 2 research, 2018


6 J. Lerpiniere et al (2013) Research Report RR-2013-05 :The Sexual Exploitation of Looked After Children in Scotland: A scoping study to inform methodology for inspection, Scotland: CELCIS


8 M.Thomas and E.Speyer (2016) ‘I Never Spoke About It’...Supporting sexually exploited boys and young men in Wales’, Cardiff: Barnardo’s Cymru.

9 A.Franklin, P.Raws and E.Smeaton (2015) Unprotected, overprotected: meeting the needs of young people with learning disabilities who experience, or are at risk of, sexual exploitation. The report was commissioned by Comic Relief, and undertaken by Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD), Paradigm Research and Coventry University.Download the Wales Briefing

10 Miller, D; Brown, J (2014) ‘We have the right to be safe’: Protecting disabled children from abuse.

11C. Fox (2016) It’s not on the radar’ The hidden diversity of children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation in England, Barkingside: Barnardo’s

12 S. Gohir (2013) Unheard Voices, The Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women, MUSLIM WOMEN’S NETWORK UK,

13 C. Fox (2016) See 13 above

14 S. Berelowitz et al (2013) “If only someone had listened” Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups Final Report

15 C. Firmin and G.Curtis, MsUnderstood Partnership (2015) Practitioner Briefing #1: What is peer-on-peer abuse? University of Bedfordshire


Download this guide as a PDF