Multi-agency Practice Principles for responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm

The multi-agency Practice Principles for responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm are designed to support effective partnership working across different local contexts; providing a common language and framework to better respond to child exploitation and extra-familial harm[1]. 

The Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) Support Programme was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to develop a set of Practice Principles to inform local and national responses to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. The above animation provides an overview of the Practice Principles.

The eight Practice Principles are evidence-informed, which means they draw on the expertise of children, young people, parents, carers and professionals and on what we know from research. Taken together, they promote a holistic response to child exploitation and extra-familial harm that recognises the potential presence of different and multiple forms of harm in children and young people’s lives[2].

Those affected by child exploitation and / or extra-familial harm are due the same rights and protections as other children and young people, so the Principles will be relevant to work with all children and young people. We know, however, that for children and young people experiencing these forms of harm, the complexities and presentation of child exploitation and / or extra-familial harm can mean that responses sometimes undermine the realisation of these rights.

To support partnerships, agencies and professionals to shape how they respond to this context, the Practice Principles: 

  • Offer a compass to help navigate a complex landscape, rather than a detailed map for every individual situation, as no one set of circumstances or local context is the same as another, and there is no single answer for how to respond to these types of harms.​ 
  • Are high-level to support a coherent approach across local partnerships and to support multi-agency working.​ 
  • Focus on behaviours and culture to help direct work with children, young people, and families, operational management and strategic leadership to align.​ 
  • Complement existing and forthcoming guidance and are broad enough to sustain utility over time and to fit within diverse local working arrangements.​ 

The eight Practice Principles below are interrelated and interdependent. Taken together, they can guide useful partnership behaviours to help support a coherent, collaborative and creative local response to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. 

[1] For further information on definitions, see Brodie (2021) Child exploitation. Definitions and language.
[2] For further information on the inter-connected conditions of abuse, see Beckett et al. (2017) Child Sexual Exploitation Definition and Guide for Professionals. Extended Text.

The eight interdependent Practice Principles: Responses to child exploitation and extra-familial harm must... Put children and young people first. Recognise and challenge inequalities, exclusion and discrimination. Respect the voice, experience and expertise of children and young people. Be strengths and relationship-based. Recognise and respond to trauma. Be curious, evidence-informed and knowledgeable. Approach parents and carers as partners, wherever possible. Create safer spaces and places for children and young people.

The Practice Principles

Download the Practice Principles

Each Principle speaks to what it means for those engaged in direct work, operational managers who support this work, and those in strategic leadership and partnership roles. Although written for a multi-agency audience, some of the terminology will likely feel more familiar to some agencies than others. Where more specialist terms or approaches are noted, they are highlighted and explained in the glossary at the end of the document.

Download the Practice Principles Fully accessible version Go to supporting resources

Responses to child exploitation and extra-familial harm must...

Put children and young people first

“I feel understood, believed and treated like a human being. I feel my worker is interested in me and on my side. I know they don’t judge or blame me.”​

Recognise and challenge inequalities, exclusion and discrimination

“I am seen, respected and accepted for who I am, professionals can relate to me, and they challenge any discrimination I face.”​

Respect the voices, experiences and expertise of children and young people

“I feel heard, acknowledged, and validated because my views and opinions are sought and included. This matters to me and makes me want to talk to them.”​

Be strengths-based and relationship-based

“I have someone to go to who genuinely cares about me and my future. They do things to actually help me. I feel safe with them and can trust them.”​

Recognise and respond to trauma

“People understand how I have been affected by what has happened to me and they show that in the way they help me. I feel like I matter.”​

Be curious, evidence-informed and knowledgeable

“I feel properly seen, because the people who are there to help me put in the effort to understand me and my life. They are knowledgeable, and are always learning about how to help me feel safer.”​

Approach parents and carers as partners wherever possible

“I am included in decisions about involving my parents and carers. Supporting my parents and / or carers to understand what has happened to me can help improve family relationships and the support I receive.”​

Create safe spaces and places for children and young people

“In my community, I have opportunities to do activities and make new friends. The spaces and places where I spend my time feel safe, and give me a sense of belonging.”​

Common themes

Four common themes are noted across the eight Practice Principles. To explain what these terms mean, within the context of the Practice Principles, a brief description is offered:

Effective communication means…

  • Focusing on the purpose and intended audience, in terms of content, tone and communication methods
  • Using language that is clear, trauma-informed, respectful and accessible for colleagues across partnerships, and for children, young people and families, and avoiding terms which can stigmatise or re-traumatise
  • Ensuring communication is two-way and inclusive, i.e. ensuring feedback can be given and received, and that people can check their understanding
  • Ensuring that the way the message is communicated aligns with the spirit of what is being communicated.

Critical thinking means…

  • Taking a disciplined approach to thinking about an issue in a reasoned, rational and open-minded way
  • Exploring an issue from multiple perspectives or angles, to gain new insights and deepen empathy
  • Using reflective practice and reflective supervision to question assumptions, including our own, and being receptive to challenge or alternative views and interpretations
  • Assessing and analysing information logically to better understand the implications of an idea, including considering unintended consequences.

Collaboration means…

  • Reaching across boundaries or silos (professional, geographical or other divides), to find common ground and create connections
  • Considering power dynamics and proactively creating conditions in which everyone feels able to contribute as equals
  • Working towards a shared vision, understanding and language in order to achieve shared goals
  • Ensuring information sharing practices are clear and purposeful, that all professionals are working from a shared understanding of the ‘whole story’ from the perspective of the child, young person, and family, and avoid practices which require them to retell distressing or traumatising experiences
  • Combining skills, expertise and perspectives to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

High quality learning and development means…

  • Supporting professionals at all levels (not only those in direct practice) to develop knowledge and skills, using a range of methods including formal training, team-based learning, self-directed study, structured skills-exchange activity, and 1:1 or group supervision
  • Ensuring the activity is evidence-informed in terms of content (e.g. up to date research) and methods (e.g. effective approaches for the type of learning required)
  • Activity is evaluated for impact (specifically, the extent to which learning is transferred to practice) rather than just feedback, and organisations and individuals are able to adapt or change ways of working in order to accommodate new learning
  • Ensuring activity responds to learning needs, which have been identified through analysing feedback from the children, young people and families / carers being supported, as well as from professionals and their managers
  • Reflecting the evolving context of responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm, rather than delivering the same training year on year.
Please note this is a legacy site and is not being updated. The TCE Programme closed on 31st March 2023.
The Practice Principles and all supporting resources will be available on the TCE microsite until March 31st 2026. Hosting arrangements beyond 2026 will be reviewed by the Department for Education.

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