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Blackpool Social Work and Safeguarding ServiceProcedures Manual

AWAKEN - Contextual Safeguarding and Missing From Home Service



In July 2020, this guidance was extensively updated to reflect the work of the AWAKEN team and safeguarding partners to support children and young people who are being exploited or who are at risk of exploitation.


  1. Introduction
  2. Common Features of Different Forms of Exploitation
  3. Children and Young People who go Missing
  4. Aims and Objectives of AWAKEN
  5. Referring Cases of Concern
  6. Governance – Daily Exploited and Missing Meeting (DEM)
  7. The Co Work Model
  8. Assessment and Planning
  9. Interventions
  10. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators
  11. Supporting Children and Young People through Related Legal Proceedings
  12. Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme

1. Introduction

Safeguarding policy and definitions

A whole system response to Complex Safeguarding involves understanding and responding to extra-familial contexts, the contextual dynamics of harm and the transition of young people as they progress towards adulthood (Firmin, 2019; Holmes and Smale, 2018).

Safeguarding is defined in the Statutory Guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children (DfE) as:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment;
  • Preventing impairment of children's health and development;
  • Ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and
  • Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

Working Together explicitly recognises that external risks, including those presented by criminality, should be considered and addressed within safeguarding assessments and responses. In a section titled  'contextual safeguarding', it explains that:

"… children may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from outside their families. These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online. These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking, online abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation (DfE, 2018 p. 22)."

This in reinforced  in the  Statutory Guidance 'Keeping children safe in education: Schools and colleges', with significant emphasis in both documents being placed on risks to children from outside the family and home environment, 

The Contextual Safeguarding Network promotes the extension of the parameters of child protection to ensure that safeguarding partners refer, assess and intervene in extra familial contexts, such as peer groups, schools and neighbourhoods. Operationalising contextual safeguarding requires practice and ICT systems capable of accepting referrals for contexts as well as people, into children's services. It requires that safeguarding partners work with professionals who can influence, intervene and attempt to change extra-familial contexts – such as community safety, youth work, policing, business, parks and leisure and school professionals.

For young people who have experienced exploitation, the transition to adulthood can be a particularly vulnerable time when they cease to receive support from Children's Social Care or from other children's and youth services. In response, Holmes and Smale (2018) explore how a transitional approach to safeguarding might be developed in relation to the need for on-going support for young adults experiencing exploitation, or its impact, beyond their 18th birthday (Coy, 2009; Holmes, 2018; Hudeck, 2018). Transitional Safeguarding presents an opportunity to draw down person-centred principles from adult safeguarding and extend upwards the contextual principles of child safeguarding.

2. Common Features of Different Forms of Exploitation

The University of Bedfordshire and Research in Practice explore common features of different forms of exploitation (Firmin et. al, 2019)

Exploitation is often characterised by power, exchange and (the restriction/absence of) consent; dynamics that are reflected in how the different categories of exploitation are defined in international and domestic legislation (Firmin et. al, 2009).

Firmin et. al, (2019) outline some of the common features of exploitation:

  • Often manifests in extra-familial environments including schools, public spaces and online platforms;
  • May be shaped by peer norms and relationships;
  • Is informed by social and economic realities such as gender norms and poverty;
  • May involve young people perpetrating criminal offences including the exploitation of others, as well as experiencing harm;
  • Can present as the result of perceived 'choices' a young person has made and/or continues to make despite professional/parental intervention;
  • Often feature grooming, coercion, criminality and serious risks of significant sexual and physical harm that create climates of fear and reduce engagement with services;
  • Is often beyond the control of and rarely instigated by parents, although familial context and childhood experiences play their part in exacerbating – and mitigating - vulnerability and risk;
  • Can lead to large numbers of disruptions – such as children coming into care or managed moves across schools;
  • Predominantly occur during adolescence - when individuals experience developmental changes impacting their emotional regulation, approach to 'risk', desire for autonomy and ability to understand long-term gain or consequence. These development factors raise challenges for service models and are used by those who want to exploit young people;
  • Will often continue into adulthood and particularly for young people during the 18-25 transitional period. Can manifest in missing episodes, disengagement from education, distrust of (or hostility towards) professionals, poor mental health (including the impacts of trauma) and emotional well-being, the breakdown of family relationships, adolescent-to-parent violence, peer violence (including the infliction of serious injuries), and unsafe educational environments as well as fractured and traumatised communities.

Child Sexual Exploitation:

The current DfE definition for CSE is:

"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."

Staff and foster carers should receive training on child sexual exploitation, and therefore be aware of the key indicators of child sexual exploitation. They include:


  • Physical symptoms (bruising suggestive of either physical or sexual assault);
  • Chronic fatigue;
  • Recurring or multiple sexually transmitted infections;
  • Pregnancy and/or seeking an abortion;
  • Evidence of drug, alcohol or other substance misuse.


  • Truancy/disengagement with education or considerable change in performance at school.

Emotional and Behavioural Issues

  • Volatile behaviour exhibiting extreme array of mood swings or use of abusive language;
  • Involvement in petty crime such as shoplifting, stealing;
  • Secretive behaviour;
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • Reports of being seen in places known to be used for sexual exploitation, including parks, shopping centres and takeaway food outlets.


  • Low self-image, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviour, e.g. cutting, overdosing, eating disorder.


  • Hostility in relationships with staff, family members and significant others;
  • Physical aggression;
  • Placement breakdown;
  • Reports from reliable sources (e.g. family, friends or other professionals) suggesting the likelihood of involvement in sexual exploitation;
  • Detachment from age-appropriate activities;
  • Associating with other young people who are known to be sexually exploited;
  • Known to be sexually active;
  • Sexual relationship with a significantly older person, or younger person who is suspected of being abusive;
  • Unexplained relationships with older adults;
  • Possible inappropriate use of the internet and forming relationships, particularly with adults, via the internet;
  • Phone calls, text messages or letters from unknown adults;
  • Adults or older youths loitering outside the home;
  • Persistently missing, staying out overnight or returning late with no plausible explanation;
  • Returning after having been missing, looking well cared for in spite of having no known home base;
  • Missing for long periods, with no known home base;
  • Going missing and being found in areas where they have no known links.

Please note: Whilst the focus is often on older men as perpetrators, younger men and women may also be involved and staff should be aware of this possibility.

Social Presentation

  • Change in appearance;
  • Going out dressed in clothing unusual for them (inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older young people).

Family and Environmental Factors

  • History of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse; neglect; domestic violence; parental difficulties.


  • Pattern of previous street homelessness;
  • Having keys to premises other than those known about.


  • Possession of large amounts of money with no plausible explanation;
  • Acquisition of expensive clothes, mobile phones or other possessions without plausible explanation;
  • Accounts of social activities with no plausible explanation of the source of necessary funding.

This list is not exhaustive.

Staff and foster carers should be aware that many children and young people who are sexually exploited do not see themselves as victims. In such situations, discussions with them about concerns should be handled with great sensitivity. Seeking prior advice from specialist agencies may be useful. This should not involve disclosing personal, identifiable information at this stage.

In assessing whether a child or young person is being sexually exploited, or is at risk, careful consideration should be given to the issue of consent. It is important to bear in mind that:

  • A child under the age of 13 is not legally capable of consenting to sex (it is statutory rape) or any other type of sexual touching;
  • Sexual activity with a child under 16 is also an offence;
  • It is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them;
  • Where sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old does not result in an offence being committed, it may still result in harm, or the likelihood of harm being suffered;
  • Non-consensual sex is rape whatever the age of the victim; and
  • If the victim is incapacitated through drink or drugs, or the victim or their family has been subject to violence or the threat of it, they cannot be considered to have given true consent; therefore offences may have been committed;
  • Child sexual exploitation is therefore potentially a child protection issue for all children under the age of 18 years and not just those in a specific age group.

The child sexual exploitation training for staff and foster carers receive should also include what information should be given to the police in such cases, for example vehicle registration numbers, names, physical descriptions. It may also include what action staff should take in the case of suspected sexual or physical abuse in order to protect potential evidence, which may be useful in the case of an alleged perpetrator being prosecuted.

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE):

The current Home Office Definition of CCE (2018) is:

"This occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into any criminal activity:

  1. In exchange for something the victim needs or wants; and/or
  2. For the financial or other advantage of the perpetrator or facilitator; and/or
  3. Through violence or the threat of violence. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology."

There is growing evidence that vulnerable children and young adults are specifically targeted for criminal purposes, although any child can be at risk. Known to be purposively targeted are those that:

  • Do not have strong support networks;
  • Have no previous criminal record who are unlikely to be stopped by the police;
  • May have emotional and mental health problems, or learning disabilities;
  • Are not UK citizens/do not have immigration status;
  • Are looked after in children's homes, or out of area;,
  • May be living in poverty.

(Home Office, 2017; Youth Justice Legal Centre, 2018; Violence and Vulnerability unit, 2018).

Methods used by exploiters include, but are not restricted to:

  • Violent coercion;
  • Sexual assault and threat;
  • Psychological manipulation;
  • The promise of cash and drugs;
  • Creating a type of 'bondage' through a debt of 'gratitude' or for money 'owed' by being supplied mobile phones/drugs.

(Home Office, 2017; The Children's Society, 2018; Youth Justice legal Centre, 2018; Coomber and Moyle, 2018; Stone, 2018; Robinson et. al. 2019).

Modern slavery and trafficking:

Modern slavery is an umbrella term that encompasses the offences of human trafficking and slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour, as set out in anti-slavery legislation (Palermo Protocol 2000; Modern Slavery 2015.)

The following definition of Modern Slavery is used by the National Crime Agency:

Definition - Modern Slavery

"This is the term used within the UK and is defined within the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Act categorises offences of Slavery, Servitude and Forced or Compulsory Labour and Human Trafficking.

These crimes include holding a person in a position of slavery, servitude forced or compulsory labour, or facilitating their travel with the intention of exploiting them soon after. Although human trafficking often involves an international cross-border element, it is also possible to be a victim of modern slavery within your own country.

It is possible to be a victim even if consent has been given to be moved. Children cannot give consent to being exploited therefore the element of coercion or deception does not need to be present to prove an offence."

3. Children and Young People who go Missing

A significant number of children and young people who are being sexually/criminally exploited may go missing from home or care, and education. Some go missing frequently; the more often they go missing the more vulnerable they are to being sexually/criminally exploited. If a child does go missing, the Joint Protocol for Children and Young People Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home should be followed.

Independent Return Interviews with the child or young person can help in establishing why they went missing and the subsequent support that may be required, as well as preventing repeat incidents. Information gathered from return interviews can be used to inform the identification, referral and assessment of any child sexual/criminal exploitation cases.

4. Aims and Objectives of AWAKEN

  • To respond to contextual safeguarding as a partnership issue;
  • To work together to reduce the prevalence and impact of child exploitation in Blackpool and to safeguard and investigate concerns around exploitation.

Young people who are being exploited or who are at risk of exploitation will receive timely assessments of need and protection and to formulate supportive targeted plans and bespoke interventions to keep them safe and to improve outcomes.

Awaken is a multi-agency co located team comprising of social care, health, police and licencing colleagues based at South King Street, Blackpool along with the "Blackpool Families Rock" – Request for Support Hub.

In addition, there are established virtual links with Community Partnership, PCSO's, YOS, EH, Drugs and Alcohol Services, Clinical Psychologist. Also strong links to other social work teams within the service to ensure an integrated and collaborative and shared approach and responsibility to contextual safeguarding with information and intel sharing key to developing an understanding of the problem profile in Blackpool.

Objectives of the team are to:

  • Provide a multi- agency approach to safeguarding children at risk of child exploitation;
  • Share intelligence and information at earliest opportunity;
  • Mapping of hotspot, locations, persons/associates of concern;
  • Deal with exceptional demand and complexity;
  • Committed to improving outcomes for children and young people;
  • Disrupt, investigate and prosecute perpetrators of exploitation;
  • Specialist support/advice for social care, police and other partner agencies;
  • Raise awareness of sexual and criminal exploitation and understanding within the context of contextual safeguarding - with colleagues, partners and the wider community.

5. Referring Cases of Concern

See Requests for Support, Initial Contacts and Referrals Procedure.

Work will be identified by referrals via the 'Blackpool Families Rock' Request for Support Hub. The contact will be screened by social workers at the Hub and if exploitation concerns identified, a CE1 referral will be forwarded by the Hub Social Worker to the Awaken inbox. For existing children open to Children's Social Care where there are concerns of exploitation, the social worker should discuss with their line manager without delay and complete the CE1 referral form and send to the AWAKEN in box. Should there be an imminent safeguarding concern of a potential criminal nature the police should be contacted and safeguarding procedures followed.

The CE1 referral will be discussed at the daily governance meeting (DEM)  where partners apply a threshold as to which cases will be accepted; this will consider the history, seriousness and complexity of the case.  Consultations can also be held with the team by the Request for Support Hub or social workers who have concerns about any young person at risk of or being exploited.

The AWAKEN Manager will record the detail of the consultation and the YP will be discussed at the next daily meeting where a decision will be made. There is management oversight on all consultations and referrals and this is clearly recorded on the social care system.  If threshold is not met, regardless, AWAKEN will offer support/advice to social care staff and partners.

Appendix - Pathway plan to be added.

6. Governance – Daily Exploited and Missing Meeting (DEM)

Partnership working and timely intelligence and information sharing is facilitated via the DEM meeting: The Daily Exploited and Missing meeting where professionals discuss day to day business along with the management of risk. Professionals from partner agencies such as YOS, Community Partnership, contribute and participate in the meeting ensuring the right services have the right information at the right time to enable effective working together to safeguard young people The DEM considers all young people who have been MFH overnight including those currently missing along with all relevant PVP's PSR'S and any intel and CE1 referrals to the Awaken Service. The above work will be discussed where information/intel will be shared and as a multi-agency what actions to be set and to review existing actions.

This enables professionals across services working with children in Blackpool to share information and Intel to enable mapping to be developed to improve awareness of current hotspots; addresses of concern, persons/associates of concern and what disruption is in place or needs to be progressed, considering criminal and civil orders. This will ensure a timely response to CYP at risk of significant harm and ensure they are safeguarded and disruption of criminal activity.

7. Co Work Model

AWAKEN social workers will be allocated to co-work with the statutory social worker, who will remain the key social worker for the family. This model allows the AWAKEN Social Workers to act as the specialist worker, providing knowledge and expertise and offering an enhanced service to families with the most complex needs and/or where risk is considered high.

The AWAKEN Social Worker will take the lead on any specialist assessments and intervention. This model allows the AWAKEN social worker the capacity to build meaningful and trusting relationships with young people and also  builds capacity for the area teams to focus on their statutory responsibilities as well as the upskilling of social workers as they gain confidence in these areas.

When an AWAKEN social worker is allocated directly to work with young people who are victims of or risk of CCE and CSE, it is important that the AWAKEN social worker is able to maintain a defined and separate relationship with the child, which is distinct from the safeguarding role.

All social workers have a clear duty to safeguard the child in the work that they do with them and their family, however the AWAKEN social worker will not be making key decisions such as entering into child protection processes, initiating care proceedings or making changes to placements etc. This enables them to focus on the relationship building with the young person and to build trust and engagement without this being compromised by decisions that the young person is unhappy about or doesn't agree with. The consistent and authentic relationship is crucial in supporting the young person to make disclosures about things which may have happened to them, and engaging them in direct work or therapeutic interventions.

A discussion will take place at the start of the AWAKEN social worker involvement with the statutory social worker to clarify the role of the AWAKEN team with the family and to ensure the both social workers and their respective managers are in agreement about what the scope of the work will be.

The AWAKEN social worker will attend any relevant meetings for the young person and family including strategy meetings, CIN/CP/LAC meetings and contribute information both verbally and in written format, where required for any care planning processes.

8. Assessment and Planning

A CE2 risk assessment will be completed with the young person by the Awaken Social Worker, in collaboration with young person, statutory social worker, carers/partners. This will be used to plan the type of work required to keep the young person safer and raise awareness. The risk assessment, dependent on level of risk will be reviewed every 8 or 12 weeks or following a significant incident.

The risk assessment will inform the plan around the young person and will be integrated into the CIN, CP, Looked After or Pathway Plan to ensure integration and consistency.  The plan will be subject to review via CINs, CP or Looked After processes.

It is essential that both social worker's keep each other up to date of any significant information to ensure assessment and planning is relevant by considering and reviewing new information which may change the risk management plan in place.

9. Interventions

The starting point for delivery of interventions will be building up a meaningful and trusting relationship with the young person through working alongside the young person, through positive activities, understanding of interests and wishes and feelings. It is only by gaining trust that the young person will be more receptive to engaging in more structured work with the AWAKEN social worker.

A bespoke package of direct prevention work will be identified, which will use creative and innovative approaches, depending on the young person's age, level of understanding and their individual needs. It will be delivered by either the AWAKEN social worker or Family Worker depending on the level of complexity

The direct work includes the following areas:

CSE/CCE and grooming, dealing with trauma, healthy relationships,  keeping safe, developing confidence, resilience and self-esteem, internet safety, sex, the law and consent, exploitation by gangs, recognising coercive behaviours and any other pull factors that may leave a young person vulnerable to exploitation. This is not exhaustive and may include collaboration with other agencies.

A strengths based and trusting relationship, trauma informed model of work is at the core of the work undertaken by the AWAKEN Team.

A trauma-informed approach includes:

  • Recognising the signs/symptoms of trauma;
  • Acknowledging the impact of traumatic experiences;
  • Actively seeking to avoid re-traumatisation;
  • Integrating an understanding of trauma in organisational policy and practice.

What AWAKEN will do:

  • Build a meaningful and trusted relationship with young person – work with and listen too;
  • Strength and relationship, trauma informed model of working;
  • Bespoke packages of direct work –  young person setting own goals;
  • Services will be delivered in a co-ordinated, trauma informed and consistent way by multi-agency working;
  • Work with  young person  and their families/carers to reduce the risk of exploitation and episodes of missings;
  • Partnership working together to share information/intel at earliest opportunity – to enable mapping to identify hotspots, addresses/persons/associates of concern;
  • Disrupt the activities of people who seek to exploit young people by proactive investigation and use of criminal and civil orders;
  • Reduce harm and offending;
  • Support professionals and communities across Blackpool to identify and mitigate the risk of exploitation to young people;
  • Strengthening communities and places.

10. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators

The police and criminal justice agencies lead on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators. All practitioners, however, have a role in gathering, recording and sharing information with the police and other agencies, as appropriate and in agreement with them.

Staff should bear in mind that sexual and criminal exploitation often does not occur in isolation and has links to other crime types, including:

  • Child trafficking (into, out of and within the UK);
  • Domestic Abuse;
  • Sexual violence in intimate relationships;
  • Grooming (both online and offline);
  • Abusive images of children and their distribution (organised abuse);
  • Organised sexual abuse of children;
  • Drugs-related offences (dealing, consuming and cultivating);
  • Immigration-related offences;
  • Domestic servitude.

Where alleged perpetrators are arrested and charged with offences against children or young people, allocated staff should ensure they are supported throughout the prosecution process and beyond. Specialist agencies should be involved in supporting the child or young person, as required. This may include using special measures to protect them when giving evidence in court for example. Independent Sexual Violence Advisers or specialist voluntary sector services, if available, may also have an important role to play.

12. Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme

The Child Sex Offender Review (CSOR) Disclosure Scheme is designed to provide members of the public with a formal mechanism to ask for disclosure about people they are concerned about, who have unsupervised access to children and may therefore pose a risk. This scheme builds on existing, well established third-party disclosures that operate under the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).

Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child (usually parents, carers or guardians) if they think it is in the child's interests.

The scheme has been operating in all 43 police areas in England and Wales since 2010. The scheme is managed by the Police and information can only be accessed through direct application to them.

If a disclosure is made, the information must be kept confidential and only used to keep the child in question safe. Legal action may be taken if confidentiality is breached. A disclosure is delivered in person (as opposed to in writing) with the following warning:

  • 'That the information must only be used for the purpose for which it has been shared i.e. in order to safeguard children;
  • The person to whom the disclosure is made will be asked to sign an undertaking that they agree that the information is confidential and they will not disclose this information further;
  • A warning should be given that legal proceedings could result if this confidentiality is breached. This should be explained to the person and they must sign the undertaking' (Home Office, 2011, p16).

If the person is unwilling to sign the undertaking, the police must consider whether the disclosure should still take place.