Young and Safe

Response to child sexual exploitation refocused from social care approach to be youth work-led.

  • Statutory intervention in referrals has dropped as has the level of risk in suspected CSE cases
  • The Young and Safe model is now embedded in mainstream prevention and early help services


North East Lincolnshire Council and its partners have worked together to bring about a major shift in the area's approach to tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Where once this was seen predominantly as an issue for social care, it is now a youth work-led process based on traditional youth work values including outreach, voluntary engagement and building trust, explains Paul Caswell, interim head of young people's support services.

The shift saw the creation of a Young and Safe team in 2011 in an attempt to "identify and intervene early, not just for CSE but other ‘wicked' issues too", says Caswell.

"The team is made up of qualified youth workers so we're using the traditional method of voluntary engagement with young people rather than that statutory forced element."

The model was informed by a successful youth crime reduction initiative launched in 2008, which saw youth workers and police spend time building trust with those at risk of being drawn into crime.

Trust is also key when it comes to tackling CSE where young people may not recognise themselves as victims, explains Caswell.

"It's about offering young people continuity and consistency - not giving up - and that's where traditional, targeted youth work comes into its own," he says, before adding that the approach is very much a multi-agency process.

Under a new integrated 0-19 service, all children's services referrals from schools and others - including concerns around CSE - now go through a single Families First Action Point before being allocated to the relevant team or specialist service.

Young people thought to be at risk of CSE get a multi-agency child exploitation (Mace) risk assessment that may lead to a referral to social care, tailored support from Young and Safe or a joint response with other agencies.

The Young and Safe programme has continued to evolve and encompasses a wide range of elements including education sessions on safe relationships in both primary and secondary schools, targeted group work for those at risk and one-to-one casework with those who may be or are victims of CSE.

Another element includes Operation Priam, a joint youth service and police initiative to patrol areas where young people hang out and may be at risk.

Young and Safe workers also deliver training to raise awareness of CSE with other professionals.

Meanwhile, a local Say Something if You See campaign has targeted other adults who may be in a position to help identify and prevent CSE such as taxi drivers and those working in hotels.

One of the biggest challenges in moving to a youth work-led approach has been the change in culture and mindset required.

"It's things like trying to convince policing teams that missing young people are not ‘streetwise' - that they all need to be seen as vulnerable children," says Caswell, who is a former police officer.

The new 0-19 service has seen Young and Safe caseworkers and supervisors move from a central team to locality teams based in different parts of North East Lincolnshire.

The idea is that all 300 staff working in prevention and early help services should be able to offer basic support and information around CSE, says Caswell.


One of North East Lincolnshire's key goals is to reduce the number of young people at risk of CSE needing a statutory intervention from social workers.

In the three years from 2012/13 to 2014/15 social workers were involved in an average of 82 per cent of referrals. But that dropped to just 37 per cent in 2015/16.

North East Lincolnshire's CSE annual report for 2016/17 shows that trend has been maintained with 62 per cent of CSE referrals at universal or early help level and 38 per cent at statutory levels.

The Young and Safe approach, also now used to identify and support those at risk of criminal exploitation or affected by domestic abuse, has seen a reduction in the level of risk identified in Mace assessments.

In 2016/17, 79 young people were referred into Mace a total of 125 times, with nearly half assessed as "low risk" or "de-listed".

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