5.1 Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Protocol

This procedure was updated on 22/02/24 and is currently uptodate.

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Child Exploitation, whether sexual or criminal, is child abuse. Children who are exploited face significant harm to their physical, emotional and psychological health and well-being. The effects of trauma experienced through exploitation can be cumulative and can require continued ongoing support to recover from throughout the child’s lifetime and into their adult years. This harm often extends to the wider family and it is important that parents/carers are offered support also.


Agencies across Buckinghamshire are committed to safeguarding children and young people from being sexually and / or criminally exploited, and children are recognised as victims of abuse.


This protocol aligns with local arrangements to safeguard children and sets out a clear pathway by which to ensure all organisations work together to provide the best service possible for children and young people either at risk or exploitation or who have experienced exploitation in Buckinghamshire.


An overarching term of Child Exploitation will be used throughout this protocol to encompass both criminal and sexual exploitation of children.

Who is this protocol for?


This protocol is to support professionals to understand how to access support for children where there are concerns regarding exploitation. This is applicable to external professionals and local authority staff.

What is Child Exploitation?


Children are victims first and cannot consent to their own exploitation.

It is often the case that children do not perceive themselves to be victims, as they consider they have acted voluntarily or that the exploiter is their friend.  Peer on Peer exploitation is commonplace and often unrecognised as exploitation by the victim.   The reality is that their behaviour is not voluntary or consenting, and every child in this situation needs to be considered a victim first. The response needs to focus on disruption and engagement.



Child exploitation can take many forms including but not limited to;

  • Grooming is when someone gets close to a child in order to abuse them. This can happen online or face-to-face, and it can be done by strangers or someone familiar. Groomers will hide their true intentions and may spend a long time gaining the child’s trust before the abuse starts.
  • Sexual exploitation is when boys or girls are tricked, coerced or forced into performing sexual acts for the benefit of someone else. This may include multiple perpetrators. They might receive gifts, money or affection, be given alcohol or drugs, or be tricked into believing they are in a consensual relationship. However, exploitation can occur in the absence of these item and relies on a power imbalance. See below legal definition.
  • Criminal exploitation is when children are coerced, tricked, manipulated or forced to commit crimes that benefit the exploiter. They might be forced to beg, to steal, to fight others, to money launder or to grow or deal drugs. ‘County Lines’ forms one part of criminal exploitation and is when exploiters use children to transport and sell drugs across the country, using ‘county line’ mobile phone numbers for different regions. See below legal definition. 
  • Forced or child marriage is when a young person is forced to marry against their will. It can be a form of modern slavery as the young person is treated as something to be traded, and then used for sex and housework.
  • Domestic servitude is when a child is confined to a home to do housework such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
  • Forced labour is when a young person is forced to work for little or no money. It could happen anywhere, but the commonly reported places are car washes, nail bars, restaurants or takeaways, building sites and farms.

Definitions for Child Sexual and Criminal Exploitation

The nationally agreed definitions below are utilised across Buckinghamshire for sexual and criminal exploitation:

Child Sexual Exploitation

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. 

(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.

(Home Office 2017)

Child Criminal Exploitation

Child Criminal Exploitation occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of a person under the age of 18 and may coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under that age into any 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, and/or

(c) Through violence or the threat of violence.

The victim may be exploited even if the activity appears consensual (i.e. moving drugs or the proceeds of drugs from one place to another). Additionally, Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.  (Home Office 2018)


What is the Missing and Exploitation Hub?


Buckinghamshire Council and partners have committed resources from their agencies to ensure a collective approach is adopted across the county when managing child exploitation.


There is a clear link between children who are missing and exploited;

Children who run away are at significant risk of harm (Hanson & Holmes, 2014). Children who are missing from care, home or education are at greater vulnerability of exploitation (Pona, 2016; Brandon et al. 2020).


For guidance relation to Local Authority processes please see “ Missing Children Practice Guidance “ . This outlines the work undertaken by the hub in relation to children who are reported as missing from home , care or education. BC Missing Children Practice Guidance 2023.

For BSCP multi agency guidance and procedures  relating to children missing from care, home and education please see 3.7 (link)

3.7 Children Missing from Care, Home and Education: Procedure.

The Missing and Exploitation Hub will have varying degrees of involvement in a child(ren)’s case, the rationale for which will be clearly noted on the child’s social care record. All relevant agencies will be made aware of the decision and rationale for the involvement of and specific role the Hub will carry out.  The majority of these decisions will be discussed collaboratively within the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Meeting (MACE).


The Missing and Exploitation Hub is made up of;

  • Buckinghamshire Children’s Social Care
  • Thames Valley Police
  • Youth Offending Service
  • Barnardo's
  • Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust
  • Buckinghamshire Early Help

Partners work together to;  

  • Raise awareness of exploitation through training and sharing knowledge/research.
  • Offer expert consultation and analysis.
  • Provide specialist input to care planning for children.
  • Help identify contextual risks and “map” known intelligence.
  • Gather and share intelligence from within and out of county.
  • Collate data to create a local understanding of need.
  • Support completion of and track National Referral Mechanism Forms (NRMs)
  • Increase understanding of geographical “hotspots”.
  • Keep up to date with current practice research and themes.
  • Ensure that there are consistent plans focused on engagement and disruption.

How to refer into the Missing and Exploitation Hub

Should partners have concerns regarding the exploitation of a child, the following process should to be followed:

For those not known to Children’s Social Care;

  • A Multi-Agency Referral Form (MARF) needs to be completed[1].
  • The form needs to cite what the concerns are in relation to exploitation (for support on signs of exploitation see Appendix 3).
  • A Child Exploitation Indicator Tool should also be completed in conjunction with the MARF (See Appendix 1 for CE form).
  • This will be progressed for decision by the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) which may result in an assessment or support from Early Help Services.
  • If an assessment determines a need for the Missing & Exploitation Hub to become involved, the Child Exploitation Indicator Tool will be sent by the MASH / Assessment team along with any additional information and a consultation/attendance at a strategy meeting will be requested.

For those already open to social care:

  • Partners should contact the allocated Social Worker and discuss/ request a consultation from the Missing & Exploitation Hub
  • The Exploitation Hub can be contacted to offer consultation and discuss initial concerns via emailing exploitationreferral@buckinghamshire.gov.uk
  • A consultation will provide advice and guidance and determine if there is a requirement for a referral to be made into the Missing & Exploitation Hub.
  • All referrals should be completed via LCS forms and only following a consultation.

If you are unsure if a child is known to Social Care or not, please contact the MASH who will either advise you to complete a MARF and CE tool or refer you to the relevant team.   


What happens next?



The referral will be screened at the Hub weekly touchdown screening meeting. The referrer may be asked to provide further information if required. This meeting is multi-agency and will determine if threshold is met for discussion in the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Meeting (MACE).

If threshold is met, the child will then be added to the next Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Meeting (MACE) agenda.  MACE meetings are held weekly.

The Hub will contact you and agree any immediate actions that may need to be considered to support the child / family.

The child will then be discussed at MACE where a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Plan (Appendix 2) will be considered. This will form part of any statutory plan and does not replace it.


What is the Multi-agency Child Exploitation Meeting (MACE) ?


Child Exploitation takes place across local communities and information and intelligence known to statutory and voluntary sector agencies should be used to highlight the threat, establish and reduce risk. An improved picture of intelligence will enable effective action in a greater number of cases of child exploitation, thereby reducing the harm that would otherwise be caused to the young victims and their families.


The MACE meeting provides the framework to allow regular information sharing and action planning to tackle child exploitation across Buckinghamshire.


Who attends MACE?

The MACE meetings are co-chaired by Thames Valley Police and the Local Authority and are attended by all relevant partner agencies. Additional representation from other agencies including CAMHS and drug and alcohol services also attend where required.


How does MACE work locally?

  • The referrer will be invited to present their child, and their concerns to partners.
  • During the meeting any community risk issues and strengths will be explored.
  • Actions partners can take to support disrupting activity of the exploiters will also be considered.
  • The aim is to support any existing plans for the children that may prevent them from being further exploited.
  • Any information gathered will also serve to increase understanding of the local threat of exploitation and resource, such as outreach in specific areas where a need is identified.
  • Review dates will be agreed with a view to remove the child from the panel when deemed suitable.
  • A Multi Agency Risk Assessment and Plan (Appendix 2) will be developed within the meeting.

What are National Referral Mechanisms (NRMs)?


It is the statutory duty of the Local Authority to complete the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for children where it is believed they are the victim of modern-day slavery. For children, this often relates to their trafficking for the purpose of criminal and/or sexual exploitation. The NRM is a framework for identifying and referring potential victims and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. The mechanism supports both Children and Adults.


It is important to note that children under the age of 18 do not have to consent to being referred and must be first safeguarded and then referred into the NRM process. All children where there is a concern of exploitation should be referred into the NRM.


How do I refer into the NRM?

A referral form is completed online via the Home Office.[1] The Missing & Exploitation Hub will complete an NRM referral form in collaboration with the professional who is working with the child. This is important as the detailed information and knowledge of the issues will be best known to the professional who is working with the child, but the oversight and tracking of referrals sits with the Missing & Exploitation Hub. The Home Office has provided a detailed guidance on the NRM process[2]

[1] Report modern slavery - GOV.UK

[2]National referral mechanism guidance: adult (England and Wales) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

  • Where an NRM is needed, a meeting will need to be arranged with the Hub so information from your Child Exploitation Indicator Tool and any additional information can be gathered to populate the NRM form.
  • The NRM form will be sent from the exploitationreferral@buckinghamshire.gov.uk
  • This will mean any confirmation and communication will be had with the Hub, but they may need to refer any queries with the worker involved.
  • Any decisions will be shared directly with the worker involved.

What does the Home Office do once a referral is made?

  • Once a child has been referred into the NRM, the assessing authority (known as the ‘Single Competent Authority’ - SCA) will, within five working days, make a decision as to whether or not there are “reasonable grounds” for believing that the person has been trafficked. This is known as the reasonable grounds’ decision.
  • If reasonable grounds are confirmed the SCA then has a minimum of a further 30 days to investigate, gather information and provide a “Conclusive Grounds” decision. In practice these decisions often take substantially longer and therefore any support should not be delayed. A Conclusive Grounds decision can be positive or negative. A positive decision represents an understanding that the child is a victim of modern day slavery.
  • If they are deemed to be a victim of modern slavery, it does not mean the child will get anything “extra” in terms of support (adults do). It is the Local Authority’s duty to manage and safeguard the child.
  • However, if a child is a victim of modern slavery and an offence is committed, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may say they will not charge due to the status of “victim” or the Judge may choose to adjourn sentencing to take into consideration the outcome of the conclusive grounds decision. It can also support a child using this as a defence in any criminal proceedings.

Appendix 1 Child Exploitation Indicator Tool

 Appendix 1 Child Exploitation Indicator Tool

Appendix 2 Multi-Agency Risk assessment and Plan

Appendix 2 - Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Plan

Appendix 3 Emerging, Significant, Experiencing

Appendix 3 - Emerging, Significant, Experiencing

Appendix 4 Appropriate Language

Appendix 4 Appropriate Language

Appendix 5 Contextualised Safeguarding Staff Guidance

Appendix 5 Contextualised Safeguarding Staff Guide

This page is correct as printed on Friday 12th of July 2024 10:45:06 PM please refer back to this website (http://bscb.procedures.org.uk) for updates.