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Child Exploitation

All agencies across Merseyside are fully committed to safeguarding children and young people from being sexually or criminally exploited, whilst disrupting and prosecuting individuals who exploit or attempt to exploit them.

What is Child Exploitation?

Child Exploitation, or CE is a term which encompasses all the ways by which children and young people can be exploited. It includes Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and also criminal exploitation. The criminal exploitation of children is an issue which is gaining more of a national focus and is closely related to County Lines, and other ways children and young people are drawn into drugs related criminal activity.

Child Sexual Exploitation, or CSE 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.

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE). While there is still no legal definition of ‘Child Criminal Exploitation’ it is increasingly being recognised as a major factor behind crime in communities across Merseyside and the UK, while also simultaneously victimising vulnerable young people and leaving them at risk of harm.

A simple definition of CCE is:

CCE often occurs without the victim being aware that they are being exploited and involves young people being encouraged, cajoled or threatened to carry out crime for the benefit of others. In return they are offered friendship or peer acceptance, but also cigarettes , drugs (especially cannabis), alcohol or even food and accommodation.

Also see information on: Child Abuse   Harmful Sexual Behaviour

a18th March 2019 was National CSE Awareness Day. Click here to go to our dedicated page.

What is County Lines?

County lines is a term used to describe gangs, groups or drug networks that supply drugs from urban to suburban areas across the country, including market and coastal towns, using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines’. They exploit children and vulnerable adults to move the drugs and money to and from the urban area, and to store the drugs in local markets. They will often use intimidation, violence and weapons, including knives, corrosives and firearms.

County lines is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of Government departments, local government agencies and voluntary and community sector organisations. County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.

Why do children become involved?

The common issues and reasons can be due to a number of factors, including vulnerabilities identified and being targeted by an abuser. Children who run away or go missing from home, care or education are recognised as being more at risk of being targeted as a victim of exploitation.

Evidence is clear that a missing child is believed to be at risk from Child Exploitation, irrespective of the length of time they are away from home or a caring environment (Plass, 2007; CEOP, 2011b).

It is often the case that children do not perceive themselves to be victims of exploitation, as they consider they have acted voluntarily. This is complicated further as the exploited children often receive cash or gifts by their abuser as  a way to groom them.

A County Lines Spotting the signs poster can be downloaded below:

WSCB County Lines Poster








Pan-Merseyside Child Exploitation Protocol

The five Safeguarding Children Partnerships in Merseyside (Wirral, Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley and St Helens) have published a multi-agency Child Exploitation protocol for professionals. The protocol includes:

  • principles for combatting child exploitation
  • definitions of sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation and county lines
  • definition and terms of reference of the new Multi-agency Child Exploitation (MACE) meetings
  • the roles of key agencies
  • the local referral pathway
  • warning signs and vulnerabilities checklist
  • CE1 screening tool and CE2 assessment tool


Warning Signs and Screening Tool

The following are typical vulnerabilities in children prior to abuse:

  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance use, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, parental criminality)
  • History of abuse (including familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of ‘honour’-based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect)
  • Recent bereavement or loss
  • Gang association either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships (in cases of gang associated CE only)
  • Attending school with children who are exploited
  • Learning disabilities
  • Unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose sexual orientation to their families
  • Friends with children who are exploited
  • Homeless
  • Lacking friends from the same age group
  • Living in a gang neighbourhood
  • Living in residential care
  • Living in a hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation, a foyer or homeless
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Young carer

The following signs and behaviour are generally seen in children who are already being exploited:

    • Regularly missing
    • Parents / Care not reporting young person missing
    • Drug or alcohol misuse
    • Has extra money/new items/‘gifts’ that cannot legitimately be accounted for/received from unknown sources
    • Change in physical appearance or behaviour
    • Pregnancy, termination or repeat testing for sexually transmitted infections
    • Young person has been coerced to take/share indecent images
    • Arrested/Involved in criminality
    • Found / travelling out of Borough
    • Multiple mobile phones
    • Young person feels indebted to an individual or group
    • Family or young person having to move or leave their home
    • Items missing from home
    • Young person carrying / concealing weapons
    • Absent from school / Non-school attendance
    • Services have not been able to engage with child
    • Self-harm indicators and/or mental health concerns and/or suicidal thoughts/attempts
    • Injuries – evidence of physical or sexual assault
    • Relationship breakdown with family and or peers
    • Association with older and/or risky peers
    • Change in education attendance/Change in education provider/Missing from education/ Non-attendance in education


To help  determine whether a child is being exploited the WSCB has published a screening tool for professionals to use.

Language, Labelling and use of Inappropriate Terms

The way we use language influences our thinking. Recent Serious Case Reviews in other areas have highlighted this as a significant issue which contributed to systemic failure to protect.

There are some labels which in the past have been used to describe children and their behaviour which lead to inaccurate assumptions which in turn minimise the risks and reality of the child’s situation. Professional should avoid using such terms in their recording and conversations and should be mindful of when they enter their thinking and challenge them.

A short guide to  inappropriate terms and suggested alternatives is provided below for professionals to use: Language, labelling and inappropriate terms

An awareness raising poster about the importance of language and terminology is also available below:

CSE Language Awareness Poster


The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel are an independent panel who oversee the statutory case review process. The panel periodically commissions reviews of national significance. The first of these reviews, about safeguarding children at risk from criminal exploitation – It was Hard to Escape, was published in March 2020. It can be downloaded below:

Presented below are two posters which provide messages for practitioners based on learning from national Serious Case Reviews and local reviews. The WSCP recommends that partner agencies display the posters and use them as discussion items in supervision sessions and team meetings.

CSE Learning from national Serious Case Reviews:

WSCB National Learning from SCR’s – CSE

CSE Learning from local reviews:

WSCB Local Learning from SCR’s – CSE

CE Audit (Nov 2019) 7 Minute Briefing:


Publications and Resources

County Lines and Exploitation Toolkit for Professionals

Criminal Exploitation Stages of Recruitment – Children’s Society 2018

CSE Disruption Toolkit – Final October 2018

Home Office Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults: County Lines Guidance – September 2018

The Merseyside LSCB’s and Merseyside Police have developed a website dedicated to providing resources, help and advice for children, young people, parents and professionals about CSE called

Childline app ‘For Me’, built in partnership with Barclays. It’s the first app to provide counselling to young people in need of help, directly through their smartphone. Teenagers behind the development of the service appeared with Dame Esther Rantzen on Good Morning Britain and Sky News, as well as featuring on the BBC School Report.

The head of helplines John Cameron said: “Launching the ‘For Me’ app shows how we’re continuing to capitalise on new technology to give children and young people the easiest possible access to Childline’s free and confidential advice and support. Its development will enable our younger generation to tap directly into Childline’s expanding range of services through their mobile phone whenever and wherever they need our help.”

Safe Skills from the Ariel Trust

‘SafeSkills’ is a new preventative education resource for young people aged 9-12 years. The resource aims to improve the safety of young people in our community in relation to the risks associated with ‘grooming’.

The resource has been developed in partnership with various agencies, such as NSPCC and Liverpool’s ‘Protect’ team. We have consulted teachers to ensure the resource is age appropriate and that the lessons support both teacher and pupil needs.

The resource consists of three modules; ‘motivations and intentions’, ‘talking about your feelings’ and ‘the role of the bystander’. It includes short films and interactive activities designed to promote discussion in a safe space.

Using films and interactive, skill based, activities about ‘grooming’ behaviour and controlling relationships, the resource will develop young people’s resilience, equipping them with the necessary skills to protect themselves against grooming risks.

The film themes consist of; ‘gaming’, ‘gifts’, ‘park life’, ‘disclosing personal information online’, ‘communicating feelings’ and ‘the role of the bystander’.

‘SafeSkills’ will be used by teachers and other professionals to empower young people in practical ways.  The resource focuses on identifying opportunities for a young person to take positive action or to ask for support.

‘SafeSkills’ will help young people to develop their communication skills and increase their resilience, helping them to build a network of people that they can turn to for support. The resource presents realistic situations in an implicit, non-threatening but thought provoking way.

Claire McKinnon, Year 6 teacher from St. William of York said, “Our kids loved the resource and it was really relevant to their needs.”

If you would like more information – or access to safe skills, please contact [email protected].

Click here for the safeskills website.


Kayleigh’s Love Story

This video was developed by Leicestershire Police following the true case of a 15 year old girl who was groomed online by a man she didn’t know over the course of just 13 days and then was tragically murdered by his friend. The video is currently being used with schools in Leicestershire  to raise awareness of the importance of online safety.

Kayleigh Haywood began speaking to Luke Harlow, a man she had never met, on 31 October 2015.

Over the course of 13 days they exchanged 2643 messages. Harlow told the 15-year-old all the things many teenage girls want to hear. He told her she was beautiful, how much he cared for her and that she was special.

Harlow was grooming Kayleigh, along with two other young girls he had also been speaking to. But it was Kayleigh that finally agreed to his requests to spend the night of Friday 13 November 2015 at his house.

She spent the next day with him too, and in the early hours of Sunday 15 November, having been held against her will by Harlow and by his next door neighbour Stephen Beadman, Kayleigh was raped and murdered by Beadman.

Kayleigh’s Love Story is as a warning to young people, both girls and boys, about the dangers of speaking to people they don’t know online. The film highlights just how quick and easy it can be for children to be groomed online without them or those around them knowing it is happening. Its purpose is to protect children now and in the future and to stop another family losing a child in this way.

Facts about the film

The film lasts around five and a half minutes and is available to view now. The film was made by Affixxius Films in Loughborough and was shot in various locations across Leicestershire and in Nottingham. The film and the trailer both contain warnings. If either were to be screened at a cinema, they would carry a 15 certificate.

Further information and resources about CSE can be found on this website and information specifically for young can be found on the Merseyside Listen to my Story website:

Alright Charlie

This resource was developed by the Yorkshire MESMAC as part of the nationally recognised BLAST project. Yorkshire MESMAC is one of the oldest and largest sexual health organisations in the country and offers a variety of services, training and resources.

The Alright Charlie learning resource is designed for use with children aged 9-11 in primary schools and aims to highlight the warning signs of grooming in an age appropriate way. The film is seen through the eyes if Charlie who is groomed by Danny. The resource was designed in consultation with CSE professionals, primary schools teachers and children in years 5 and 6 in primary schools. The resource is accessible to girls AND boys with the viewer never discovering Charlie’s gender.

The resource includes a guidance book for professionals and a workbook for children and young people

There is also a video resource which can be accessed below:


As the Missing From Home/Child Sexual Exploitation Commissioned Service in your Local Authority, Catch22 have undertaken a piece of work with both local children and local professionals to identify the attached pieces of advice for children and professionals around preventing CSE online, and issue identified by local young people as a large concern for them.

Catch22 also have a film that has been made using real stories from that work that we undertake. You can find that video here:

A Key area for development around Child Sexual Exploitation in 2017 has been the change in the national definition of CSE and Working Together Guidance which went live on the 16th February. Information regarding the changes can be found here:

If you have any concerns, would like advice or guidance around any concerns you may have or would like some ideas around activities you can undertake to raise awareness of CSE with your staff teams, parents or children, please feel free to get in contact with your Catch22 CSE Team on: [email protected]   0151 666 4897 or 07979 241502

Leaflets from Catch22:




Barnardos publish a number of resources for children and young people, professionals and parents and carers about Child Sexual Exploitation including their Spot the Signs guidance. Their leaflets can be accessed here:

Spot the Signs leaflet for Children and Young People

Spot the Signs leaflet for Parents and Carers

Spot the Signs leaflet for Professionals

Further information from Barnardo’s is available from their website:


Pace (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation) work alongside parents and carers of children who are – or are at risk of being – sexually exploited by perpetrators external to the family. They offer guidance and training to professionals on how child sexual exploitation affects the whole family, and resources, guidance and advise to parents and carers which can be accessed from their website:

Social media

Available below is a guide to many of the common social media chat, instant messaging and picture sharing apps widely used by children and young people.

An updated list of 183 gaming and social media apps commonly used by young people is available here: Social Media Library April 2018. The list includes the names and description of the apps.

CSE Poster by a Young Person

CSE Poster Online Safety

Boys Don’t Cry – A report by the Children’s Society into the sexual exploitation of young men trafficked into the UK, March 2016

Boys and Trafficking Report March 2016

Serious Case Review report from Bristol LSCB following an investigation into the organised exploitation of children (Operation Brooke).

Serious Case Review Report – Organised CSE Operation Brooke

Below is a report published by the National Working group for CSE which highlights the similarities between some forms of Child Sexual Exploitation and the Trafficking of Human Beings, and the advantages of the legislation when taken in the partnership as a response to a child safeguarding strategy and criminal investigation.

Understanding Modern Slavery Act

Seen and Heard Campaign

In July 2016 the Department for Health and the Children’s Society launched the Seen and Heard campaign to raise awareness of the signs of sexual abuse and exploitation. More information can be found HERE or visit the campaign’s website:

If you believe a child is at risk

If a child or young person is at risk of harm, abuse or neglect please report it to the Wirral Central Advice and Duty Team (0151 606 2008) 9.00am-5.00pm Monday to Friday.

Outside of these hours please call 0151 677 6557. In an emergency always dial 999.

E-mail: [email protected]

In an emergency always call the police on 999.