Toggle Contrast

Missing, exploitation, trafficking & contextual safeguarding

Child sexual exploitation: Child sexual exploitation is not defined in law. 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 in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or 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

Common characteristics of CSE:

  • Violence, coercion and intimidation are common. Involvement in exploitative relationships is characterised by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice, as a result of their social, economic or emotional vulnerability.
  • The child or young person does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation.

Both grooming and sexual exploitation can happen in real life and online. In fact, online contact often plays a big part in sexual exploitation.

Child criminal exploitation and county lines: CCE is not defined in law but is a term that has come to be associated with ‘county lines’. The government definition of county lines is set out below together with our definition of child criminal exploitation, which is increasingly used to describe this type of exploitation where children are involved.

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 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 into any criminal activity:

  • in exchange for something the victim needs or wants.
  • for the financial or other advantage of the perpetrator or facilitator.
  • through violence or the threat of violence.

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. The criminal exploitation of children is not confined to county lines but can also include other forms of criminal activity such as theft, acquisitive crime, knife crimes and other forms of criminality

Child trafficking is child abuse. It’s defined as recruiting, moving, receiving and harbouring children for the purpose of exploitation (HM Department for Education (DfE) and Home Office, 2011). Many children are trafficked into the UK from overseas, but children can also be trafficked from one part of the UK to another.

Trafficking is the movement of people from one area to another by use of force or threat for the purpose of some form of exploitation, such as sexual exploitation, domestic slavery, forced marriage, labour exploitation including in cannabis factories, forcing a young person to commit crimes, drug dealing, credit card fraud, benefit fraud, ritual sacrifice and organ donation.

Traffickers can be male and female and control young people by threatening to report them to the authorities, telling them they owe large sums of money, or by threats of violence to them or their families.

Children who are trafficked are intentionally hidden and isolated from the services and communities who can identify and protect them

Children are missing if their whereabouts cannot be established and the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another.

Essentially, when they go missing, children are either running from a problem such as neglect or abuse at home, or to somewhere they want to be. They may have been coerced to run away by someone else.

Push factors are those things in the home environment that lead the child or young person to believe that the only option is to run away.

Pull factors are those things that entice a young person to leave their home environment, usually believing that they are improving their lives in some way or meeting some underlying need.

Looked after children are 20 times more likely to run away (1 in 10) than those who are not looked after (1 in 200).  Whilst it can be argued that their current home environment should be stable, there are numerous additional issues linked with lack of control, feelings of not being listened to, frustration around the “process” and barriers put in place due to the “system”.  Many children in care also have disrupted early childhoods meaning that their relationships with others can be difficult and lacking in trust.  It is therefore important that we are aware of the needs of looked after children and work to reduce the likelihood of missing incidents.

Whatever the reason for their running, The Children’s Society estimates that approximately 25% of those children who go missing are at risk of serious harm.

Signs that exploitation may be taking place commonly include:

  • Secretive behaviour (more so than usual) which is met with mood swings and defensiveness if questioned. The mood swings are usually severe – many parents first see that their child seems to have changed personality.
  • Presenting as withdrawn, low in mood, anxious or hyper-vigilant
  • They stop engaging with their usual friends
  • They are associating with men and women older than they are, potentially in a relationship with them
  • They have new, expensive items they could not normally afford, such as phones, jewellery or clothing
  • They receive messages or calls from unknown people through their phone or online game
  • They spend large amounts of time online, often talking to strangers
  • They are absent from school or home regularly, sometimes overnight, and are secretive about where they’ve been
  • Having an extra phone that receives a lot of calls or messages.
  • There is increased or problematic substance misuse.

Signs that a child may have been trafficked or may be at risk of being trafficked include:

  • Going missing for longer periods of time
  • Travelling to and/or located in areas far from home without any other clear reason for being there
  • They have to do excessive housework chores
  • They rarely leave the house and have limited freedom of movement
  • They do not have any documents (or have falsified documents)
  • They’ll often give a prepared story which is very similar to stories given by other children
  • They’ll be unable or reluctant to give details of accommodation or personal details
  • They may not be registered with a school or a GP practice
  • They have a history with missing links and unexplained moves
  • They are being cared for by adults who are not their parents or carers
  • They don’t appear to have a good quality relationship with their adult carers
  • They may be one among a number of unrelated children found at one address
  • They receive unexplained or unidentified phone calls whilst in a care placement or temporary accommodation

However, no list of warning signs is exhaustive or will cover every scenario. A Child Exploitation Risk Assessment Framework (CERAF)should be completed as soon as potential concerns regarding any form of child exploitation are identified.

Portsmouth Multi-Agency Missing, Exploited and Trafficking Integrated Pathway

This pathway details the collaborative process in Portsmouth to robustly respond to missing, exploited and trafficked children and young adults, sets out the expected response across all statutory and partner services and sets out our local response to the priorities within the HIPS Child Exploitation & Extra-Familial Harm Strategy.

HIPS Child Exploitation & Extra-Familial Harm Strategy

The Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships (LSCPs) across the Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton (HIPS), via the HIPS Executive Group, recognise that tackling child exploitation and extra-familial harm is complex and requires a proactive, multi-agency, holistic approach. This strategy sets out the agreed priority areas that all partner agencies will work towards to ensure the most effective and coordinated response to exploitation and extra-familial harm.

Child Exploitation Risk Assessment Framework (CERAF)A CERAF should be completed as soon as potential concerns regarding any form of child exploitation are identified.

The full CERAF is for use by all professionals from all agencies across HIPS (with the exception of health settings listed below). The accompanying guidance has been developed to support professionals in using and completing the CERAF.  There is also additional help available via this training video.

A CERAF should be completed as soon as potential concerns regarding any form of child exploitation are identified. This may include child sexual exploitation (CSE), child criminal cxploitation (CCE), county lines (CL), modern day slavery (MDS) or child trafficking concerns. The evidence may follow a missing episode, or increasing occasions of a child missing from school, staying out late, associating with new peers/associates where there may be some concerns or known intelligence of risk. Where possible a CERAF should be completed to inform ongoing referral to children’s services.

For health professionals only: The CSERQ4 (Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Questionnaire) has been specifically designed for health professionals across the HIPS area who have ‘time limited’ contact with children. The tool should be used to quickly identify children at risk of exploitation. This tool should be used by:

  • Emergency Department staff
  • Opticians
  • Condom distributers
  • Paramedics/ ambulance service
  • Dentists
  • GPs / out of hours service
  • Pharmacists
  • 111 service
  • Urgent treatment staff
  • Unscheduled care providers

If anyone is uncertain of the CERAF process accompanying guidance has been developed and can be accessed here. You can also contact the Portsmouth MET (Missing, Exploited, Trafficked) Co-ordinator on 023 9268 8593 or email

Children who go missing

If it comes to the attention of any agency that a child is missing, they must advise the parent/carer to report this matter to the police, and follow this up by contacting the police to verify that the child has been reported missing.

Our response to children who run away is equally as important as understanding the reasons for them running away.  There are two stages:

When a child is missing: Think about how much you know about the child, their friends, their likes and dislikes.   Do they have any routines that they follow all the time, are there any favourite places that they like to go? What do you know about the context in which they went missing, for example was there a big argument immediately prior to the missing episode?  Is there anything that may be drawing them away?

When a child returns: Think about how you might or do react.  Think about what you see when they return.  Are they intoxicated (either through drink and / or drugs), are they wearing different clothes, are there any signs that they have been given money, phones, etc.?  Are they tired, do they have physical injuries?  Try not to apportion blame but seek to understand what it might be like to be in their shoes and establish what might prevent a further missing episode.

Worried about a child – If you are concerned that a child or young person has suffered harm, neglect or abuse, please contact

Portsmouth Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)

If a child is at immediate risk of harm, call the Police on 999

Community partnership information (CPI) – Hampshire police would like partner agencies to submit intelligence on CPI Form to ensure we build intelligence cases on perpetrators who are exploiting children, and to ensure that the police have accurate information to safeguard children when for instance they go missing.  Please click here for further information.

National referral mechanism (NRM) – The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive appropriate support. If the potential victim is under 18, or may be under 18, an NRM referral must be made (children cannot be referred in using a Duty to Notify referral). Child victims do not have to consent to be referred into the NRM and must first be safeguarded and then referred into the NRM process. At the same time, the child should also be referred to the Independent Child Trafficking Guardians Service.

Guidance for the NRM process has been produced by the Home Office and there is an online NRM referral form to complete. Please note though that initial referrals to the NRM must be handled by an authorised agency, referred to as “first responders”. These include include police forces; the National Crime Agency; UK Border Force; UK Visas and Immigration; and local authorities.

HIPS pathway for supporting child victims of trafficking

Independent child trafficking guardians (ICTGs) – ICTGs provide support to all potentially trafficked children across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, West. They support children to understand social care, immigration and criminal justice processes and enable their voices to be heard. The role of the Independent Child Trafficking Advocate is outlined in s.48 Modern Slavery Act 2015. To refer a child to this service you can complete the online referral form here or call the ICTG Support Line on 0800 043 4303.


Contextual safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises the different relationships that young people form outside of the home environment, and the little influence parents and carers can have over these, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

As a critical part of safeguarding practices, children’s social care practitioners, child protection systems and wider safeguarding partnerships need to engage with and assess the individuals and sectors who do have influence over/within extra-familial contexts and where necessary provide intervention. Contextual safeguarding expands the objectives of child protection systems recognising that young people are vulnerable to abuse beyond their front doors.

The University of Bedfordshire has developed a website that provides an overview of the contextual safeguarding research programme, including its history, vision and mission, team, current suite of projects, and key publications.  To access the policy and practice resources created through this programme, and hear from practitioners and decision-makers who are using a contextual safeguarding approach in response to abuse in extra-familial settings, please visit the virtual hub of the Contextual Safeguarding Practitioners’ Network.

The Youth Advisory Panel of the Safer Young Lives Research Centre (SYLRC) has created a resource booklet for children and young people on contextual safeguarding and dangers outside the home. This resource is also designed for professionals that work with children and young people to use as a tool to facilitate discussion about safeguarding in an age-appropriate way.