Contextual Safeguarding & Child Exploitation

What is Contextual Safeguarding?

Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, children’s experience of significant harm that takes place outside their home and families. Contextual safeguarding includes child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation (including County Lines), gangs, peer to peer violence, radicalisation, and all other forms of modern slavery. There are clear links across these areas.

What is Child Exploitation?

Children and young people may be vulnerable to exploitation from within their family and from individuals they come across in their day-to-day lives. These threats can take a variety of different forms, including parents or carers encouraging children to sell drugs and other commodities for financial gain or exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups; trafficking; online abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation.

Children who are exploited can be vulnerable because of chaotic or traumatic experiences in their lives, making them targets for perpetrators, gangs and networks. However, it is important to remember it can happen to any child and perpetrators use a variety of means to coerce and control their victims, sometimes without them realising they are being exploited.

Some potential indicators of child exploitation include:

  • Persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out of area
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones
  • Excessive receipt of texts / phone calls, being secretive or becoming distressed when phone is removed
  • Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups
  • Leaving home / care without explanation
  • Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries
  • Carrying weapons
  • Significant decline in school results / performance or attendance
  • Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being and / or their behaviour
  • Cuckooing of a child’s home or place the child visits (see below)


Cuckooing is a practice where people take over a person’s home and use the property to facilitate exploitation. It takes the name from the cuckoo bird who take over the nests of other birds. There are different types of cuckooing:

  • Using the property to deal, store or take drugs
  • Using the property to sex work
  • Taking over the property as a place for them to live
  • Taking over the property to financially abuse the tenant

Threats are often used to control the victim. We have a number of tools and powers to remove the people who are exploiting in order to keep individuals safe. When necessary, the Council and Cheshire Police will work together to obtain closure orders or injunctions on the cuckooed properties. Closure orders restrict who can enter the property. Breaking a closure order is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, meaning police can immediately arrest unwanted people found in a home with a closure order on it.

In order to put safeguards in place for cuckooed victims it is important that professionals and members of the public report their concerns and share what they observing. This can be done via the referral form below (for professionals) or via 101 to the police (for the public)

For more information on cuckooing you can read our 7-minute briefing

Definition of 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.(DfE 2017).

Definition of 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). Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. (Home Office 2018)


Reporting Concerns

If you have concerns that a young person is being exploited or is at risk from harm from outside their home, you must follow the Contextual Safeguarding Pathway: Cheshire West Contextual Safeguarding Pathway (PDF, 105KB)

Contextual Safeguarding Assessment Tool

The Contextual Safeguarding Assessment Tool should be used in any instance where you are concerned that a child is being exploited, through sexual or criminal means. The tool should help you to identify and evaluate the cause of your concerns and reflect on whether further safeguarding investigations are needed. As with all tools, they are most useful when they support best practice. We recommend that when there are a number of agencies supporting a child and family that all professionals contribute to the assessment tool to help develop the fullest picture of what is happening to the child. It is not a task that lies solely with the Lead Worker and should only be completed by a single agency when children are not already being supported by a multi-agency plan, e.g., early help TaF or Social Work led plan. It is also important to encourage children and families to contribute to the assessment and share information. To access the tool, click on the link below:

Contextual Safeguarding Assessment Tool

Children at risk of significant harm or in need of protection MUST BE referred to i-ART so that the appropriate safeguarding processes can be initiated. The tool should be submitted alongside a Multi-Agency Referral Form (MARF) in these instances.

Online referral form for Integrated Access and Referral Team

How we work as a partnership to support children at risk

Contextual Safeguarding Hub (CS Hub)

Children at risk of exploitation, county lines and peer violence are discussed by a multi-agency group of professionals at our weekly CS Hub meeting. The Hub shares information to help inform the risk assessment, allocates a risk grade in respective of exploitation i.e. Low, Medium or High, and ensures that the child receives the most appropriate intervention to meet their needs and address the risks identified. Young People who are assessed as Medium or High risk of exploitation go on to be discussed at the monthly Child Exploitation Operational Group where there is oversight of progress of the plan and disruption activity to reduce risk to the child.

Child Exploitation Operational Panel (CEOP)

When young people are discussed at the CE Operational Panel the lead professional will be asked to complete the Review or Closure Form (below) to enable the members of the group to establish what work has been completed with the child and family and what the nature and current level of risk is considered to be. This form must also be completed, alongside an updated Contextual Safeguarding Assessment Tool, when risk is reduced to Low and there is a request to close the young person to the CEOG meeting and remove the Contextual Safeguarding Episode (CSE) flag on the child’s record.

If you have concerns about individuals that could be exploiting children or locations where exploitation maybe occurring (be that a physical or online location) then please complete the Persons of Interest/Locations Information Sharing Form and submit this to

Support for children at risk of or experiencing child exploitation in Cheshire West

In Cheshire West and Chester, we have services available to support young people at risk of or experiencing exploitation and their families. We also offer interventions to prevent an escalation of risk.

Queensberry AP (QAP) –  QAP are commissioned by Cheshire West and Chester Local Authority to deliver one to one interventions as well as groupwork which is targeted at early intervention and prevention. When young people are at increased risk of/or are being exploited QAP also provide one-to-one work with the young person and their family and will contribute to the child’s safety plan.

Youth Service – Cheshire West and Chester Youth Service offer support to young people about Teenage Relationship Abuse, Healthy Relationships, Exploitation, Consent and Online Safety. They also have a special education needs and disability trained worker who can undertake work with children who have additional needs.

Pilot Project Emotional Wellbeing Support – We are delighted to be working with Youth Fed and their Youth Mental Health Lead, Emma Ward to provide wellbeing support to children at risk of exploitation. Youth Fed’s holistic mental health programme will tailor a package of support for the individual child as well as supporting parents/carers and professionals in the child’s support network. This is a 12-month pilot funded by the Safeguarding Children Partnership in order to ease some of the pressure in the mental health system and expedite wellbeing support to children at risk of exploitation. The service is intended to supplement not replace interventions which are already available but will, where appropriate, support children on waiting lists for other providers.

All of the above interventions can only be accessed via the Contextual Safeguarding Hub. To be considered at the Contextual Safeguarding Hub professionals must complete the Contextual Safeguarding Assessment Tool above and following the pathway.

If you require more information about the interventions available, please contact Furaha Madumbi, Contextual Safeguarding Practice Manager at

Pan-Cheshire Supporting Documents

Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton and Warrington Safeguarding Adults Boards, Safeguarding Children Partnership’s and the four area Community Safety Partnerships are committed to protecting children, young people and adults from exploitation. Those partnership’s have come together to agree a joint vision for all key partners and stakeholders and to demonstrate our collective commitment to reduce the risk of exploitation towards Children and Adults. The Pan Cheshire All Age exploitation Strategy was agreed in July 2023. Each area will develop a local implementation plan to ensure we progress the strategic objectives.  

Cheshire All Age Exploitation Strategy 2023 – 2026 (1.5 MB)