Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks investigation report


J.2: Multi-agency child sexual exploitation structures

4. The 2016 thematic joint targeted area inspections of child sexual exploitation (JTAIs) found that collective commitment at a strategic level did not always translate into effective practice.[1] The report stated that “tackling child sexual exploitation can be done, but only if all partners take responsibility for their role as a discrete agency, work collaboratively with each other and have a shared understanding”.[2] This is no different from any other aspect of child protection.

5. The 2019 thematic inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that partnership working on child protection was “generally effective” but can be undermined by ineffective processes that hinder decision-making and protective planning.[3]

6. Multi-agency meetings have widened beyond child sexual exploitation to deal with all forms of child exploitation. The ability and willingness of local partnerships to track and report on child sexual exploitation cases specifically may have reduced as a result of this wider approach. It is important that agencies do not dilute the focus on child sexual exploitation as they tackle other forms of child exploitation.

7. There was evidence of good partnership working on child sexual exploitation in Durham, dating back to 2015 when the police-led ERASE (Educate and Raise Awareness of Sexual Exploitation) team was formed.[4] It received positive comment in recent inspections by Ofsted and HMICFRS.[5] Flagging of concerns on the systems of all relevant agencies is overseen by ERASE and implemented consistently, although it is not clear whether from 2020 this applies to only high-risk child exploitation cases.

8. A 2018 Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) inspection found that partnership working between the City and County of Swansea Council (Swansea Council) and its external agencies was generally effective but obtained evidence that working relationships between children’s social care and education could be strengthened.[6] The Council’s practice lead on child exploitation speaks on a daily basis with the supervisor of the police’s exploitation team and they are said to have an extremely close working relationship.[7] South Wales Police considered that its partnership working systems are robust but that difficulties can arise where agencies have different approaches. For example, the police had “overwhelming concerns” that a 15-year-old girl was at risk of, or had experienced, sexual exploitation but Swansea Council would not initiate care proceedings. The use of police protection resulted in Swansea Council reviewing and finding suitable alternative accommodation.[8]

9. Warwickshire County Council has engaged the Tackling Child Exploitation support programme to help improve its service. This has identified a need to engage a wider group of partners and develop integrated systems.[9] External input can help to identify and reflect upon what improvements can be made to tackling child exploitation.

10. St Helens Council reported that there are close working relationships between the local authority, its agency colleagues, police and health partners.[10] Merseyside Police consider that partnership working in St Helens is “still developing” – it remains an ambition to have a co-located team at operational level.[11] A review of the children’s cases from St Helens suggested partnership work was variable and, in some cases, ineffective. For example, CS-A213 was a male victim of sexual exploitation and online grooming through dating apps. There was no evidence of effective partnership working at the stage of referral in 2019.[12] In respect of both CS-A71 and CS-A212, there were concerns about how well the police forces and children’s social care departments worked together when sexually exploited children were moved across police force and local authority boundaries. There was evidence of good partnership working between an education provider, Catch22 and health services when CS-A71 engaged particularly successfully with the education provider, the Cool Project.

11. In Tower Hamlets, the Children’s Society has observed that changes to partnership meeting structures over a two-year period had led to some disjointed working. However, it welcomed the Multi-Agency Risk Panel, which has clear terms of reference and an information-sharing agreement.[13] The London Borough of Tower Hamlets acknowledged that, in the past, there had been high turnover of staff which had disrupted professional relationships but believed there are effective structures in place.[14] The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) stated that the partnership now works well.[15]

12. There was evidence of good partnership working in Bristol. There is considerable partnership work with Barnardo’s BASE service, which supports child victims of sexual exploitation in the area.[16] BASE, children’s social care, sexual health services and Operation Topaz also worked together to protect CS-A59, with regular multi-agency risk management meetings and strategy meetings evident.[17] There were also some areas where improvement is needed in Bristol. For example, one particular concern is the sharing of information from return home interviews to identify and address the reasons for a child going missing.[18]


Back to top