Multi-agency child sexual exploitation team marks its ten-year anniversary

A multi-agency child sexual exploitation team working in partnership with families to disrupt abuse, convict exploiters and protect children at risk is marking its ten-year anniversary.

The Engage team is one of three multi-agency child sexual exploitation (CSE) teams working across Lancashire and comprises a range of agencies and organisations including the Police, Social Care, Health and key voluntary sector partners including Pace. This co-located team launched in 2008, in response to concerns expressed by parents working alongside Pace about CSE and an investigation into children going missing.

A Pace Parent Liaison Officer joined the co-located team in 2009, leading the delivery of Pace’s Relational Safeguarding Model and work with families.

This evidence-based Relational Safeguarding Model increases the capacity of agencies and parents to safeguard children by working together in partnership.  This maximises opportunities to disrupt exploiters, gather evidence, develop and implement safety plans, improve relationships within the home, increase resilience, and support the affected child way beyond cases going to court.

Detective Sergeant Mark Whelan of Lancashire Constabulary’s Engage team reflects back on Engage’s development, its work with Pace and how the Relational Safeguarding Model is integral to its approach.


Why was Engage set up?

“We were responding to concerns about the high numbers of children being reported as going missing. We wanted to find out why and what the drivers were behind it. To do this, we developed a team comprising a police officer and social worker to go out and proactively speak to children in an informal way, to gain their trust and get to the bottom of the reasons why.

“On carrying out this research, we found that a large number of them had had a sexual offence committed against them, a high number had been physically assaulted and many of them had been involved in criminal activity.

“We immediately developed a proposal to set up a co-located team comprising Social Care, Police, Health and charities. We presented this proposal to the Safeguarding Board with an affected parent who explained how all the different agencies had let her down. The affected parent also described the impact that child sexual exploitation had had on her child, family and other siblings. In response to the findings of our research and the proposal, the decision to develop the co-located team was made straight away.”


Why was Engage’s development so important?

“Looking back in particular, our way of working around CSE was quite new and many areas didn’t have a multi-agency team specifically focused on CSE – so it was quite forward thinking.

“Working together, we brought all the different areas of expertise and information in one place. This meant that we could look at each case holistically, instead of focusing on a single angle such as drugs, going missing or criminal activity.

“Working with Pace, we also engaged families, working alongside them and building trust. This meant that we were able to work with them to gather intelligence to remove groomers and safeguard their child – we call this intelligence-based family support.

“This forms part of a much wider picture. We need to support those affected by CSE to move on with their lives, change their behaviour and deal with the after effects of CSE long after the case goes to trial. The ultimate goal is to safeguard children.

“We can’t do all of this work on our own – and this is why we need to work in partnership with charities such as Pace – we have gone way beyond a catch and convict approach.”


What key learning would you like to share?

“We must change our culture and how we work together to tackle CSE – working alongside families as key partners. Pace’s Relational Safeguarding Model is key to this. I am a strong advocate of his model utilised within our Engage team – it is vital that it is well understood beyond our programme of work. I also feel Pace’s Advanced CSE Practitioner Course (ACSEP) is an excellent vehicle for enabling this cultural change in terms of how agencies and families work together in partnership.

“Pace’s work with parents and its Relational Safeguarding Model enables us to gather much better intelligence and work alongside parents to successfully prosecute offenders.

“Pace’s work with families also has a positive impact on relationships between the parent and child, and a parent’s understanding of CSE. This can positively alter the outcome of many investigations. For example, Pace’s work within the team recently positively changed the outcome of a prosecution in its entirety.

“Pace enables families to understand CSE and how groomers operate – resulting in better relationships within the home. This enables us to work alongside the family and convict the exploiters. As a result of Pace’s work in a recent case and working with the family, five offenders appeared in court and were sentenced to ten years.”


Learn more about Pace’s Relational Safeguarding Model