Agenda item

Child Exploitation Update

This item agenda will provide a high-level update on Child Exploitation. The report provides a summary of key Child Exploitation activity, including performance information and trends, awareness raising and safeguarding, undertaken in the year 2023.



This agenda item provided a high-level update on Child Exploitation, which included a summary of key child exploitation activity, performance information and trends, awareness raising and safeguarding, undertaken in the year 2023.


The Chair welcomed to the meeting Laura Gough, Head of Service for Children’s and Young People’s Services (CYPS) and Darren Downs, Independent Scrutineer for the Rotherham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership.


The Chair invited Laura and Darren to introduce the report and lead on the presentation, the following was noted:



·       The report was the second Annual Report on Child Exploitation in Rotherham presented to Improving Lives Select Commission and provided information on how the service was responding to child exploitation in Rotherham.

·       The report demonstrated how the service ensured that children, both individually or in groups, who were at risk of, or experiencing child exploitation were identified, safeguarded, and supported, and that there was a partnership approach to raising awareness and preventing exploitation of children and young people in Rotherham.


The National Guidance-

·       The Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy 2021 was the National Strategy and provided a clear definition for Child Sexual Exploitation, which was ‘forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving violence, or whether the child is aware of what is happening’.

·       Home Office Guidance defined Child Criminal Exploitation as ‘where an individual or group coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 to take part in criminal activities, including but not exclusively County Lines. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual’.


The Law-

·       The Children Acts of 1989 and 2004 (amendment in 2017) set out specific duties. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 created a duty on the local authority to provide services to children in need in their area. Section 47 of the same Act required local authorities to undertake enquiries if they believed a child had suffered or was likely to suffer significant harm.

·       Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023 was a guide to multi-agency working, that provided a framework for effective partnership arrangements for keeping children safe. 


Rotherham’s Approach to Child Exploitation-

·       Rotherham was one of only a small number of local authorities that continued to have a dedicated service focused on child exploitation.

·       Ofsted evaluated in June 2022 that Rotherham’s Children and Young Peoples Services provided ‘Good’ services to children in need of help and protection. Ofsted stated ‘the Evolve service works proactively with children to reduce risks associated with sexual and criminal exploitation’.


Key Documents-

·       The Child Exploitation Strategy 2019-2022, which had now concluded.

·       In 2023, Rotherham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership published the Child Exploitation Priorities 2023-2028, this was a plan to tackle and prevent child exploitation in Rotherham. Priorities were focused on local key drivers such as, Prepare, Prevent, Protect, Pursue. These were derived from the National Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy and from research into established use.

·       The New strategy was in development and would be published in 2024.


The Rotherham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership Structure-

·       In 2023 a new scrutineer, Darren Downs was appointed. This role differed from the previous Independent Chair role in that it provided a greater focus on Scrutiny and holding the partnership to account.

·       A new Strategic Director for Childrens Services, Nicola Curley was appointed, bringing a fresh approach to child focused practice.


The Child Exploitation Delivery Group (CEDG)-

·       The CEDG was a strategic group, that reported directly to the Rotherham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership Board.

·       In 2023 the group was refreshed, and the Terms of Reference (ToR) were updated. Superintendent Andy Wright was appointed as a new Chair and attendee roles were reviewed to ensure the right people were in attendance to drive progress.

·       The group was responsible for the strategic overview of child exploitation priorities and strategies. The group had an action plan which contained specific leads for the following objectives:

·       Objective One- Prepare

·       Objective Two- Prevent

·       Objective Three- Protect

·       Objective Four- Pursue.


Responding to Child Exploitation-

·       For any concerns about the safety of a child potentially at risk of child exploitation, a referral would be made to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). MASH would then screen the referral and identify the next steps.

·       The specialist multi-agency team Evolve would also become involved, this team included statutory partners, such as the Police and Health.

·       The Evolve Team worked directly with young people affected by child exploitation. They contributed to assessments, investigations, mapping activity, collating information, and analysing the prevalence of child exploitation in the Borough, in relation to children and young people, perpetrators, and locations. The team also supported professionals and partners such as schools, through providing guidance, advice, and a comprehensive training package.


Intelligence Meetings-

·       The Child Exploitation Tactical Group (CETG) had a weekly meeting which was chaired by the Police and attended by CYPS. During the meetings intelligence was shared to provide a multi-agency response and next steps.

·       Multi Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) meetings were held to respond to and discuss identified children and young people at high risk of child exploitation.

·       The multi-agency Operational Missing Meeting would take place fortnightly, to identify ways to reduce the number of young people who went missing, focusing on those children considered high risk with repeated missing episodes.


Work with Children and Young People-

·       During 2023, seventy-seven young people were referred to the Evolve Team.

·       Seventy-three young people’s cases were closed to the Evolve Team, following successful intervention and a reduction in risk of exploitation, to low.

·       Evolve completed three hundred and forty-four child exploitation risk assessments in total in 2023.

·       There was one hundred and forty-one identified risks in relation to child criminal exploitation.

·       There were one hundred and seven identified risks in relation to child sexual exploitation.

·       There were fifty identified risks in relation to both criminal and sexual exploitation.

·       There were forty-six identified as no risk, where the exploitation risk had reduced and there was no risk identified.

·       Risk assessments were completed and then updated every twelve weeks.


Awareness Raising Activity and Campaigns-

·       On the 21 February 2023, the Annual Workshop on Child Exploitation for Members took place. The session was a success and was attended by twenty-nine Members.

·       Child Exploitation Awareness Day was held on the 18th of March. Information was shared, including how staff could access and complete the mandatory e-learning modules. Posters about the Awareness Day were circulated digitally to schools for display in staff areas. Councillors received a poster and Spot the Signs information cards via the Town Hall. Social media posts were also shared throughout the day, on Community Safety and corporate Rotherham Council channels.




County Lines Intensification Week-

·       National County Lines Intensification Week 2023, took place from 27th February to 3rd March. This was a week of action addressing county lines and child criminal exploitation. This included The Spot the Signs Campaign and use of the Children's Society Look Closer Campaign, which was a national partnership campaign with the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre and Children's Society. The aim of this campaign was to raise awareness of child exploitation and abuse, with a particular focus on public spaces.

·       Social media posts relating to both campaigns, reached over 5,700 people through Facebook and Instagram.


Operation Keepsafe-

·       Operation Keepsafe was a well-established, multi-agency targeted activity, which focused on working on areas to engage with young people, to raise awareness of exploitation.

·       To date, Keepsafe activities had engaged with over 1700 children and young people in the community since the start of April 2021. This had impacted positively on both individual and groups of children, and supported communities in keeping their children safe.


Spot the Signs-

·       Awareness raising had continued through the Spot the Signs Campaign. This included sharing information on the Community Safety Teams social media, posters and the distribution of Spot the Signs Cards in 2023.10,000 had been distributed to date, across council employees, services, partners and businesses.


South Yorkshire Police Campaign-

·       On the 17th of March 2023, South Yorkshire Police launched their new regional Child Exploitation Campaign called ‘Even the Happiest Childhood Can be Destroyed by Exploitation’.



·       The Evolve training had raised awareness through presentations to groups, child exploitation training to partners and the partnership and ad-hoc training when requested.


Police Staff Training and Development-

·       The Police staff training programme focused on all officers that worked in safeguarding roles, to ensure they were qualified to a national standard, such as completing the Specialist Child Abuse Investigators Development Programme (SCAIDP) and the Specialist Sexual Offences Investigator Development Programme (SSAIDP), from the College of Policing. A significant number of officers had already completed this training.

·       The police were also training all staff, to qualified College of Policing PIP2 serious and complex investigation standard. In 2023 many officers attended this training.

·       Several initiatives including awareness raising, and targeted briefing sessions had taken place for 165 staff across CYPS and Housing in 2022-2023. These initiatives were on-going to continue to drive intelligence submissions.


Child Exploitation Stakeholder Event-

·       On the 20 June 2023, twenty-seven delegates from across the partnership, Social Care, Police, Health, and the Voluntary sector, attended a stakeholder event to look at Rotherham’s journey through Child Exploitation.


The Chair thanked the relevant officers for the presentation and invited questions, this led to the following points being raised during discussions:

·       There had been a reduction in the number of children reported missing (2.7.6 of the report). This was due to increased interventions that were put in place for a specific cohort of young people who were repeatedly going missing. An example of this was that missing advocates were now allocated to children who were repeatedly missing, to reduce the risks. In addition to this, multi-agency meetings had expanded membership to include more key professionals which had also had a positive impact.

·       Child Exploitation, in relation to criminal activity and organised crime groups was the most prevalent form of child exploitation within the Borough in recent figures and accounted for more than half of the current cases. Although organised crime groups did not always operate within boundaries, reassurance was provided that the relationships between police forces, sub-regionally, nationally, and internationally was very good, specifically in relation to missing children. The Partnership worked closely with regionalised crime units and the National Crime Agency when required.

·       The Evolve Team completed delayed feedback sessions after all training cohorts, to cross reference referral levels with training and to identify any improvements as a result of the training, or any identified gaps.

·       The Probation Services were not a statutory partner, but they were a safeguarding partner, therefore they contributed funding to the Rotherham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership and were also active members in delivery groups. The Partnership met regularly with Probation Services and there was a strong partnership in place.

·       The Independent Scrutineer role differed to the previous Independent Chair role, as it provided further Scrutiny and challenge around data, performance and partnership working.

·       The report (2.2.1) stated that the most recent Child Exploitation Strategy 2019-2022, concluded in 2022 and the new strategy would be published in 2024. There would be a gap of eighteen months without a strategy in place. This was as a result of the development of child exploitation, with the vast majority of cases being in relation to child criminal exploitation and online exploitation. The Partnership wanted to ensure that there was sufficient time to work across the partnership, to ensure the future strategy would be fit for purpose. Re-assurance was provided, that there was a delivery plan in place, that was continuing the work from the previous strategy.

·       A formal review of risk assessment plans was completed every twelve weeks, weekly meetings were held to manage the progress of the level of risk and activities undertaken. The formal review of risk assessment plans was completed at twelve weeks, to ensure sufficient time to assess whether completed work had an impact or if there was any change to the risk levels.

·       The voice of the service user was captured through many feedback processes. When a child or young person left the Evolve Service, a feedback session was undertaken to discuss the activities completed, services provided, and the provision of support provided. The Partnership presented two case studies to every Child Exploitation Delivery Group meeting, alongside monthly audits which also contained service user feedback.

·       There were detailed reporting mechanisms in place within the Partnership, this included detailed breakdowns of specific cohorts of children, such as Children in Need (CIN), Looked After Children (LAC) and children on Child Protection (CP) plans.

·       If the Partnership believed that a child was at risk of exploitation, there was no consent required for engagement. The service was responsible for engaging with the young person.

·       In relation to the forty-six identified cases that were assessed as having no risk, this was a cohort of children and young people that had entered the Evolve service as medium or high risk and were then assessed as no risk identified at a later stage. The service had a legal responsibility to hold records of these cases for seventy-five years.




1)    That the Improving Lives Select Commission note the activity undertaken with regards to Child Exploitation.

2)    That further information to be provided to members, in relation to the proportion children and young people who are at risk of exploitation, that are Looked After Children and/or have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.


Supporting documents: