Research and Evidence

‘It’s already too much of an issue’.

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.

‘It’s already too much of an issue’. These words still sit heavy following a consultation session during which the issue of racism surfaced. This discussion, with five Black males aged 14 and 15 years old, exposed how racism pervades their daily lives and is a barrier to trust, confidence, safety and, most significantly, hope in services, and society, more broadly.

These feelings were echoed across the groups of young people we consulted with as part of the development of the ‘Multi-agency Practice Principles for responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm’, who shared experiences of facing different types of discrimination, in a range of contexts with professionals, relating to various aspects of their identity, including religion, sexuality, disability and gender.

We spoke to 203 young people and 39 parents/carers from across eight regions in England, as part of this consultation, to find out what they feel is important in Practice Principles for multi-agency/partnership responses to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. The participants represented diverse identities, with many able to draw on first-hand experiences of services and/or lived experience of growing up where exploitation and/or extra-familial harm is encountered by, or a risk for, young people.

In the impactful session I referred to at the beginning of this blog, this particular group of boys explained that the racism they experience goes beyond their encounters with police, although shared that ‘we get stopped and searched multiple times a day, and for no reason’ and that the police ‘will be more tough with you’, because they are Black boys. They also reflected on experiences of school exclusion and how, over a period of two years, they had observed that ‘white and Asian boys, as well as Black girls, have returned’ (to mainstream education, while they remain excluded). This kind of systemic marginalisation experienced by those I spoke to, and others like them, tells them they do not matter.[i]

What we heard, from those we consulted about their lived realities, highlighted the significance in using intersectionality as a tool with which to consider identity and power within the context of discrimination. Many professional groups are disproportionately white and female (as is true of our team) and so we will not personally understand what these young people endure. However, we have a responsibility to listen, acknowledge and promote change within services and systems to challenge these deeply engrained injustices.

The findings surfaced what you may expect to hear about the importance of relationships, feeling heard and building trust with professionals in order to increase safety. Yet, this may be challenging when considering contexts in which young people find racism, discrimination and other experiences of harm occurring within current systems that are meant to protect them. One parent shared how her son was put in isolation at school along with all the other Black boys while the white boys, who had been involved in the same incident, faced no repercussions. A young refugee, who reported racist abuse from another young person in their placement, told us how their social worker failed to respond for months. Feeling desperate, he decided to stay away for two nights and, it was only then, after potentially being exposed to further harm, his social worker responded, and moved him. This young person was displaced, again, while the other young person was allowed to remain.

During another group session, the young people designed two characters who were experiencing extra-familial harm and, when talking about accessing support for them, they identified a challenge: ‘…the fact that they’re both Muslim and they’re both, like they’re both of colour, it makes it hard to get the support they need, just because…just because of their religion and everything…’

The insight offered from our consultation data unites lived experience with what research tells us about disproportionality and institutional racism. Bringing to our attention racist and discriminatory processes and practices embedded in multi-agency meetings set up to respond to child criminal exploitation, Dr. Lauren Wroe discussed some of her research in a blog commissioned by TCE in 2021.[ii] She highlighted the potential harm in ‘mapping meetings’, use of the ‘gang’ label and sharing of data between Children’s Social Care and the police, as examples that entrench inequalities within institutions, and call into question the effectiveness of some ‘safeguarding’ practices. Research shows us that many of these processes can result in increased surveillance, and even criminalisation, particularly of Black children and young people who are wrongly perceived as sources of risk, and not considered in need of protection.[iii]

During the short lifespan of this final year of the TCE Programme, we have had the publication of findings from the Child Q Local Safeguarding Practice Review report[iv], the police murder of unarmed Chris Kaba in South London[v], the case of what has become known as the ‘Manchester 10’[vi] and reporting of violence and abuse experienced by young refugees accommodated in a Home Office hotel, which pushed many into the hands of exploiters, and, who remain missing.[vii]  These examples are just a few, amongst many more, which are stark reminders of the state violence that disproportionally affects those from Black and global majority backgrounds.

So, what does this mean for safeguarding young people from exploitation and extra-familial harm? There are calls, and a need, for anti-racist practice in safeguarding. Research like ‘Check your thinking’ reminds us that all young people should be afforded the same rights to safety and support and that may mean, for some working in safeguarding, having difficult, but necessary, conversations as individuals, teams, services and partnerships to work towards equity rather than equality[viii], as young people told us is important.

The TCE Programme’s ‘Practice Principles’ are not a quick fix for responding to exploitation and extra-familial harm but have the potential to offer a way of working that starts to engage with some of the social harms that are inextricably linked to young people’s experiences. If the Principles can create a culture that enables constructive challenge to those working across safeguarding partnerships, this should support acknowledging these types of harm and working in a genuinely child and young person-centred way. However, for a shift in working to be effective, and actually positively impact young people, the policy contexts need to align with the Principles. There is a need for government departments to create the conditions in which these shared Practice Principles, across a range of partner agencies, can be resourced and enacted to provide meaningful support and create safety.

Although we have heard from some young people that they feel racism is ‘not gonna end, I know it’s not gonna end’; a starting point may be within the Principle to recognise and challenge inequalities, exclusion and discrimination. If safeguarding is to be an experienced right for all children and young people, then the individual and community trauma of institutionally racist and discriminatory systems cannot be ignored, or compounded, by those very systems that are set up to protect them.

[i] Billingham, Luke and Irwin-Rogers, Keir (2021). The terrifying abyss of insignificance: Marginalisation, mattering and violence between young people. Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 11(5) pp. 1222–1249. DOI:

[ii] Wroe, Lauren. (2021) ‘County lines’, inequalities and young people’s rights: a moment of pause and reflection Available here:

[iii] Davis, J. & Marsh, N. (2020). Boys to men: the cost of adultification in safeguarding responses to black boys. Critical and Radical Social Work, 8, 2, 255-259; Williams, P. and Clarke, B. (2016). Dangerous Associations: Joint Enterprise, Gangs and Racism: An Analysis of the Process of Criminalisation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Individuals. Centre for Crime and Justice Studies; Wroe, L. E. & Lloyd, J. (2020). Watching over or working with? Understanding social work innovation in response to extra-familial harm. Social Sciences, 9, 4, 37.

[iv] Gamble, J. (2022) Local Safeguarding Practice Review – Child Q Available here:

[v] White, N. (2022) ’Chris Kaba: Police watchdog to examine whether race was a factor in fatal shooting’ The Independent Available here:

[vi]  Legane, Roxy. (2022) ’The Manchester Ten’ The Red Pepper Available here:

[vii]  Townsend, Mark. (2023) ’Revealed: child migrants racially abused and threatened with violence at Home Office hotel The Guardian Available here:

[viii] Race Matters Institute (2014) Racial Equality or Racial Equity? The Difference it Makes. Available here:

Practice Principles

Download the Practice Principles document to explore what this means for professionals, and how to develop your approach to tackling child exploitation.

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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