Using Trauma-Informed Practice to Respond to Child Sexual Exploitation: A Crucial Approach

Emily Klein
May 15, 2023

The extent to which we can measure the true scale of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) occurrence is limited, so it is important that all professionals working with children across the public sector execute clear and robust CSE prevention strategies and utilise trauma informed practice. Here we’ll explore why trauma informed practice is key to effective CSE intervention.

A Trauma-Informed Approach

Trauma informed practice is a holistic approach that seeks to recognise and respond to the impact of trauma on people’s lives which can affect the way individuals think, feel, and behave. Being trauma informed increases practitioners’ awareness and understanding of how trauma can negatively impact individuals’ cognitions and behaviour.

Trauma informed practice encompasses the following key principles:

  • Safety
  • Trust
  • Choice
  • Collaboration
  • Empowerment

For further information of trauma informed principles in practice, in the context of the health and social care sector, read more here: https://www.gov.uk/government/working-definition-of-trauma-informed-practice

Trauma informed practice should be an integral part of an organisations structure and understood by all staff, from frontline practitioners to senior leaders, in order to recognise signs of trauma exposure and understand its meaning when working and communicating with people of all ages.

Indeed, staff across agencies should consistently reflect a trauma informed approach in working practice.

This is important since a lack of awareness and lack of sensitivity towards a trauma experienced individual could lead to undetected warning signs of trauma and therefore missed opportunities for intervention. Key to avoiding this is ensuring all staff across your organisation are well trained and that your training practices provides opportunities to harness a deep and broad understanding of trauma.

Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

CSE is a form of sexual abuse involving situations in which a person or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate, or deceive a person under the age of 18 into sexual activity.

Trauma informed practice in this context, as an individual, first line responder, or an organisation working with children, is being able to effectively identify different signs, symptoms, and indicators of CSE.

When responding to signs of CSE, trauma informed practice is a valuable approach as it recognises the potential trauma that has been experienced by the child or young person that could be affecting their behaviour. Exposure to trauma of this kind can have lasting impacts on psychological, emotional, and social development, especially when the child is not supported in managing the impact of the trauma.

CSE experienced children need a supportive, nurturing, and non-judgmental environment where they feel safe and comfortable disclosing abuse or exploitation. This is true across sectors and services.

As such, it is important for all those working with children to be aware of the warning signs of CSE, but also to know how to respond in an appropriate and effective way, which brings us onto the next point.

Appropriate Language and Behaviour

Trauma informed approaches acknowledges that a child’s adverse experiences, which would include forms of child sexual abuse, could be affecting their behaviour.

Research indicates that people who have experienced CSE describe initial encounters with police as difficult, particularly lacking sensitivity and left feeling blamed for their abuse.

CSE is complex, and those interacting with victims, such as police officers, may struggle to understand the complexities of CSE. The initial encounters with front line professionals are therefore important to get right, and your language and behaviour can have a big impact.

Here are some key tips for practitioners across all sectors of public services when interacting with children:

  • Create a safe, private space and location to ensure individuals feel comfortable when communicating disclosure of CSE
  • Being sensitive to factors such as gender and ethnicity
  • Being aware that trauma often manifests in disruptive or harmful behaviours
  • Avoid using victim blaming language or assumptions
  • Avoid re-traumatisation by preparing victims of next steps
  • Validate their feelings and engage with them in a non-judgemental manner
  • Change anything that can make you seem distracted or distant and keep your focus on them
  • Allow them time to tell their story

The role of appropriate language, communication, behaviour, and interactions with children and young people regarding issues of CSE is a key topic covered at our online training day.

Need Guidance on Effectively Responding to CSE In Your Setting?

If you'd like to learn more about effectively utilising trauma informed practice, register to our upcoming Identifying and Responding to Warning Signs of CSE online training day 28th September 2023, led by Karen Livesey, Director of No Whispers Community Interest Company.

Learning outcomes include:

  • How to prevent children and young people from becoming victims of exploitation and abuse
  • Assess the attitudes and values that may prevent people recognising, acknowledging, and responding to CSE effectively
  • Good practice multi-agency approach and effective report writing as part of disrupting sexual exploitation
  • Recognise the key role you have as a professional and the significance of your behaviour and interactions with children and young people regarding issues of CSE
  • Understand the diverse responses related to signs of CSE
  • Acquire strategies and resources for effective interventions and improved confidence in identifying warning signs and responding to CSE

                                 View the agenda here