Child sexual exploitation awareness
Parents across Devon and Cornwall asked to join the fight against Child Sexual Exploitation
Plymouth, Torbay, Cornwall and Devon Safeguarding Children Boards and Devon and Cornwall Police have teamed up to promote awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) to parents.
To coincide with Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day on 18 March led by national charity National Working Group (NWG), all the Boards, working with Devon and Cornwall Police, local authorities and charities including Barnardo’s, NSPCC and Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (NEW Devon CCG), are making parents aware of what signs to look out for in case their child is at risk of being sexually exploited.
The Boards have collaborated on a new web page to signpost parents to support services which can be found at

Sexual exploitation is a type of child abuse. It puts a young person at huge risk of damage to their physical, emotional and psychological health.

CSE involves young people and children being 'groomed' and sexually exploited.  It can take many forms, such as through an apparently 'consensual' relationship with an older person or a young person having sex in return for attention, gifts, cigarettes or alcohol.

Many young people who are being exploited do not realise they are at risk and will not ask for help. Some may see themselves as willing participants in such abuse, not realising that what is happening to them is illegal.

There are warning signs that may indicate something is wrong. If you know what you're looking for, you can take steps to help them.

Alison Hernandez, Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner, said: "One of the priorities in my Police and Crime Plan is protecting the vulnerable and those at risk of abuse. We need to do all we can to protect children from CSE.”

"I want children to know that we care about what they have gone through. They should know where to go for help and what support is there for them. There are various agencies, both local and national, that can help, including police, Barnardo’s, the NSPCC and local safeguarding boards.”

A mother of a young girl from the Devon and Cornwall area who was targeted on social media said: “We realised my daughter was being exploited by a young male, who was not a good role model in her life.

“I was very shocked and did not know how I felt, however, I felt numb and I was so upset I could not protect my daughter in a way that a mother should.

“More should be talked about the dangers of social media and children need to know about what bad things can happen to them. They just see it as if they are making new friends but new friends are not always who they say they are.

Andy Bickley, Independent Chair of the Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board, said:

“Tackling child sexual exploitation is a shared priority for organisations working with children and young people in Plymouth and one which brings together skills and expertise from all sectors.”
“We are absolutely committed to making sure there is a greater awareness of child sexual exploitation across all professionals in the city and we fully support awareness days like these.”
John Clements, Independent Chair, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LSCB said:

“Child sexual exploitation has been a priority for the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly for the last three years. The staff across our agencies understand how easy this can happen and how it can destroy the lives of those affected. 

We have put a lot of effort into improving how we respond and I am confident we are effective once we are aware it is happening to a child or a young person. 

A key issue for us is raising knowledge and awareness amongst parents and the general public to help us identify the children we don’t know about.  If we can identify more children we can start to help them too.”
Mark Gurry, Independent Chair of Devon Safeguarding Children Board, said:

"Agencies in Devon have worked really hard to ensure our collective response to victims of CSE is constantly improving and I am pleased to say we know more about it and respond more effectively than ever before. However, there is always more to do.

CSE still remains a crime which exists 'under the radar' and victims are too often hidden from view. Raising the awareness of CSE across the community - and especially with young people themselves - is really important in helping us work together to counteract the traumatic and damaging effects of CSE.”
Detective Inspector David Ley, Child Sexual Exploitation Lead for Devon and Cornwall Police said,

“The prevention and investigating of child sexual exploitation remain a priority for Devon and Cornwall Police. 
“Unfortunately there are people in our society who seek to sexually exploit and abuse our children, which can cause untold and lasting trauma. 

Investigating these cases is often complex and protracted, particularly when young people do not recognise the risks they face or see themselves as victims.
“As a father, I would encourage parents and carers to use the abundant guidance online and the wide range of support services available to ensure they are aware of the threats that exist to children, including knowing the signs of exploitation, and how best to support them and keep them safe.”
Sarah Allum, Service Manager, NSPCC said: “We know how difficult it is for young people to talk about being sexually exploited and it is really important that parents and carers are aware of behaviours that could be a cause for concern. 

We also want to ensure that children and families know where they can go to get advice and support.  The NSPCC in Plymouth helps children recover from the impact of sexual abuse and also has a Helpline to provide advice to any adult who has a concern.”
Elaine Watling, a Designated Safeguarding Lead for Education in the Devon area, works to ensure school staff are trained to identify signs of abuse, holds regular awareness assemblies and links in with police, as well as being CSE lead for the school.

Elaine said: “The aim is always that whatever the concerns are around a child the correct support is put in place to make their life better and safer.”

Councillor Terri Beer, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People for Plymouth City Council, said:

“We are working with the Safeguarding Children Boards and all our partners across Devon and Cornwall to raise as much awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation as possible across the peninsular.

It is really important that parents know what to look out for and if they are concerned, how they can report it.

We are making sure that tackling Child Sexual Exploitation is a priority for Plymouth City Council and everyone working for children and families in the city.”

Chrissie Bacon Associate Designated Nurse for Safeguarding Children for NHS NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, is the strategic lead for CSE and the MACSE chair for Southern Devon.

Chrissie said “Health staff play a key role in prevention, recognition and treatment of child sexual exploitation and all health practitioners are trained in the signs and symptoms of child sexual exploitation and what to look out for. It is really important that we always remain curious when observing a young person’s behaviour and presentation.”

Signs to look out for:
  • Has the young person received unexplained gifts or money?
  • Do they use their mobile phone excessively and/or secretively?
  • Do they have significantly older friends?
  • Have they been picked up from home or school by someone you don't know?
  • Are they associating with other young people who are already known to be vulnerable or involved in exploitation?
  • Have they started playing truant from school or regularly going missing from home?
  • Have they suffered from a sexually-transmitted infection?
  • Are they self-harming?
  • Has their appearance changed?

You can visit the new web page here:
National resources:

CEOP - CEOP helps to keep children and young people safe online. CEOP helps thousands of children and young people every year who have been in a similar situation to you.

Pace – Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation - Pace takes referrals directly from parents. If you are worried about child sexual exploitation happening to your son or daughter, get in touch. Someone from their parent support team will be in touch to discuss the help and information Pace could offer. or call 0113 240 5226

NWG – NWG’s principal objective is to offer support and advice to those working with children and young people under eighteen who are affected by abuse through sexual exploitation. or call 01332 585371.

NSPCC – National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Any adult worried about a child can contact our trained helpline practitioners for 24/7 help, advice and support. Email or call 0808 800 5000. For more information about child sexual exploitation visit

Barnardo’s – Barnardo’s is the largest provider of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) support in the UK, with specialist services in over 40 locations
International Missing Persons Helpline - call 116000 for confidential help and advice

Parents Protect – Support group for parents -
Local services:

Devon and Cornwall Police -

Children’s Services - If you would prefer not to contact police you can contact Children’s Services in your area: Important: In an emergency call 999.

Local Safeguarding Children Boards:  
Regional case study interview with a mother of a girl who was targeted (anonymous):
Q1: How did you find out your child was at risk of CSE?
A1: My daughter went to a local youth service spoke to a youth officer. The youth officer told me we have people in Barnados and Base and they spoke to myself and my daughter.
We realised my daughter was being exploited by a young male, who was not a good role model in her life.
Q2: What were your feelings when you were first told?
A2: I was very shocked and did not know how I felt, however, I felt numb and I was so upset I could not protect my daughter in a way that a mother should.
Q3: What support did you receive and from whom?
A3: I was first referred to a family support worker from the local council, and that lasted for about 6 weeks. My daughter never asked anyone in the meantime and then I was referred to BASE and she started seeing a support officer from BASE and I started seeing a support officer for myself as well.
Q4: What support was there for your child and for children?
A4: BASE supported my daughter who were extremely good. She has been seeing them for about 9 months after the incident happened so they are really supporting her. They are providing continuing support until she feels ready to start a normal healthy life and a healthy relationship.
Q5: What advice would you give to parents in similar situation?
A5: I would make sure that everyone knows their children's login details of all their social media accounts and that you can keep track of who they are speaking to, and also go to the counselling and speak to your child and try to gain their trust. So they come to you and talk to you about it.
Q6: How do you think this situation could have been prevented?
A6: More should be talked about the dangers of social media and children need to know about what bad things can happen to them. They just see it as if they are making new friends but new friends are not always who they say they are.
Children need to know more about the dangers of social media that not everyone is who they say they are.
Q7: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A7: I think more needs to be spoken about the dangers (of CSE) in school to prevent things like this happening. More places for children to seek advice and support if they have got no-one to confide in that would probably help sometomes. Speaking to counsellors and speaking to family and friends would definitely help.
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