Top tips on working with adults who have experienced CSE

There is a risk of sexual exploitation being ignored by adults' services

Photo: Kevin Carden/Adobe Stock

In a piece for Community Care Inform Adults, Angie Heal and Sam Mayne provide a comprehensive, practice-focused guide to working with adult victims of CSE. These are some key points from their piece; Inform subscribers can read the full guide here.

Child sexual exploitation is one of the areas of most concern for local authority children’s services, following the publication of the Jay and Casey reports into the response of statutory agencies to CSE in Rotherham. But adults’ services will also have safeguarding duties towards some victims and survivors of abuse, and should be prepared for this.

Safeguarding practice issues

There are three key practice issues that managers and staff in adult social care/safeguarding may need to consider:

  1. People who continue to be abused by perpetrators after the age of 18/21 when they transition to adults’ services, including adult safeguarding. Where a young adult is experiencing or at risk of abuse because of sexual exploitation, adult safeguarding should lead on a safeguarding investigation in conjunction with the police and other agencies. Even if the individual does not meet the criteria for an enquiry under the Care Act, this should happen as part of a local authority’s duty to ensure wellbeing.
  2. Survivors who are no longer being abused but disclose previous CSE. Adult social care or adult safeguarding should lead a safeguarding investigation, in our view.
  3. Adult social care/adult safeguarding may be providing services to adults who are parents of children who may be the subject of or at risk of CSE. Staff in adults’ services need to be alert to the indicators and risks and refer to police/children’s social care.

Taking action to protect those who have been abused

Investigations have shown that even when issues of sexual exploitation or abuse have been clearly identified and reported to statutory agencies, they have not been acted on. There are a number of reasons for this, including that the severity of the situation has not been understood.

Any adult safeguarding enquiry launched as a result of allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse should involve a meeting to plan who takes what action. This should include the police. Where local authorities undertaking or commissioning a safeguarding enquiry suspect a criminal offence has been committed, the Care Act statutory guidance advises immediate referral to the police to determine whether this is the case. Early referral to the police may help them secure evidence or use police powers to initiate protective actions for the adult.


Those who may be victims of abuse often find it difficult to speak out about their situation, particularly when they have been sexually abused as it will require disclosing very personal details.

Relationships of trust need to be built over time and staff need to be skilled in active listening and be able to pick up on small clues, such as lack of eye contact, reduced appetite or a sudden unexplained change in behaviour, that may arise during contact with adults. Spending one-to-one time with an adult when they seem upset about something might mean that a disclosure of abuse follows during or after the session as a result. Where adults do disclose concerns about sexual exploitation/abuse, these should be ‘heard’, taken seriously and acted on.

There is a risk of sexual exploitation being ignored by adults’ services and seen as a ‘children’s issue’ only. This is clearly not the case; young people will be transitioning into adult care, and those in the care of adults’ services may be affected by the impact of sexual abuse or exploitation as an adult. Adults receiving care and support from adult social care may have children themselves who may be at risk of CSE.

Angie Heal has over 35 years’ experience of working in public and voluntary sector organisations, including the NHS, police and local authorities. Her work as a strategic drugs analyst for South Yorkshire Police and Partnerships led to her researching child sexual exploitation in Rotherham because of the links between the two issues. Sam Mayne has 30 years’ experience as a social worker, 12 of these as a senior manager in adult social care specialising in older people’s services and joint working with health.


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