Pan-Merseyside integrated child exploitation service

Initiative works with police and safeguarding agencies to identify children involved in crime linked to exploitation.

  • It supports young people to leave the criminal lifestyle and links them with support agencies
  • The scheme has had nearly 100 exploited young people referred to it by police in just over a year


Social business Catch22 has been at the forefront of work to support young victims of both sexual and criminal exploitation in Merseyside.

The organisation was initially commissioned in 2015 to deliver a pan-Merseyside child sexual exploitation (CSE) service covering the five local authority areas of Sefton, Liverpool, Knowsley, St Helens and Wirral.

However, it was Catch22's evidence gathering of child criminal exploitation (CCE) that led to the service being expanded further by the region's police and crime commissioner (PCC).

This culminated in the first integrated child exploitation service being commissioned last year enabling the organisation to support child victims of CSE and CCE in Merseyside.

Recognising that children and young people who have been exploited criminally or sexually are victims is a key message. However, Ellie Fairgrieve, a senior service co-ordinator for the pan-Merseyside team, believes there is still a lack of understanding about the scale of exploitation of young people.

She says "presenting factors" - for example, drug dealing or shoplifting - are often looked at in isolation by the public and safeguarding professionals, when "actually, what we need to be considering is why this young person committed a crime, who is behind them and what is the context for that child".

She says such an investigative approach usually reveals the reason why many young people become involved in criminality.

"It's not because they want to commit a crime, it's because they have been coerced, manipulated and groomed into it through exploitation," she says.

Fairgrieve believes this is linked to a further need not to look at CSE and CCE separately but in the round.

Catch22 developed its pan-Merseyside approach in response to the number of young people who "don't recognise borders or local authorities" and were travelling freely from one local authority to another to commit crime.

This was exacerbated by inconsistent commissioning of provision from area to area. This was recognised by the PCC who called for consistent support for young people across the region.

The integrated service aims to ensure that if a child or young person moves from one local authority to another they will continue to be supported by a professional they know.

Furthermore, Fairgrieve says Catch22 regularly contacts custody suites in different cities across the UK to urge them to get in touch if they have detained a young person from Merseyside.

"We know from our experience of CCE that within Merseyside we are ‘exporters' so organised crime groups are trafficking young people to other parts of the country," she says.

Catch22 staff get in touch with these young people by phone or in person to offer support with a view to engaging them in the service.

"It has worked very positively because young people are more likely to talk to an agency like ourselves as they see us differently," she says.

Once young people are engaged with the service, Fairgrieve says each of the five local authorities use a co-ordinated child exploitation form, risk assessment and pathway to respond to both CSE and CCE.

"We've been able to influence the local authorities and police to revise a pan-Merseyside child exploitation protocol which means they look at exploitation as a whole and not just CSE and CCE individually," she says.

To strengthen the region's co-ordinated response, Catch22 offers long-term support and help for young people to leave organised crime groups.


Since the integrated service was launched last April, more than 8,500 young people have been reached by group work delivered by Catch22.

The organisation has also trained 1,670 professionals and had more than 300 parents attend its child exploitation awareness raising sessions.

Fairgrieve says in the last quarter, CCE referrals (14) are seven-times more than CSE referrals which she attributes to the high number of organised crime groups in Merseyside.

The latest figures bring the number of referrals for CCE to 54 and for CSE to 43 for the period April 2017 to June 2018.

Fairgrieve says this is the result of outreach work with the local authorities and police to raise awareness of CCE. "People are spotting the signs like they did with CSE, so it's clear our awareness is working," she says.

This article is part of CYP Now's special report on exploitation and vulnerability. Click here for more

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