October 5, 2022 Research and Evidence

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

Drawing of the 8 Emerging Practice Principles.

In March 2022, the TCE Programme was commissioned by the DfE to produce a set of national  ‘Practice Principles’ intended to support local partnerships in responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. See this initial blog about the work.  

Since then, the Programme team has been busy consulting with professionals, children, young people and families, and undertaking a rapid scoping review of the relevant research, to inform the development of the draft Practice Principles. The team is delighted to be able to share these with you now, together with some thoughts on the learning to date. 

Few would deny the need to improve the response to child exploitation and extra-familial harm, and many would identify enhanced workforce knowledge and skills being part of the solution. However, the complexity of the work means it is neither possible nor helpful to produce weighty tomes of prescriptive guidance. This complexity arises from several factors, including:  

  • the range of partners and agencies involved in ensuring an effective response, locally and nationally  
  • the evolving and complex nature of child exploitation and extra-familial harm itself 
  • the emergent nature of the evidence base, with gaps and new knowledge equally challenging to manage 
  • the ever-evolving and subjective notion of ‘best practice’ 
  • the different needs of different professionals 
  • the diverse variety of local contexts
  • the divergence of priorities between agencies and policy makers. 

This complexity, together with learning from knowledge gathering and the first three years of the TCE Programme, strongly suggests the Practice Principles need to avoid a detailed ‘tick box approach’ and rather aim to enable coherence and a shared sense of direction within and between partnerships. As such, the Principles focus on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’. 

Whilst evidence-informed1 by design, the Practice Principles do not recommend specific interventions or models of practice, as the aim is for them to be applicable in different contexts and circumstances. They are intended to be ‘a compass, not a map’, meaning, they remind us which way to face, where our ‘North Star’ is, rather than directing the route or specific steps. 

Attending to the importance of relationships, the Principles are deliberately behavioural in their focus. They offer a steer for professionals working directly with children, young people and families, and also attend to the management and leadership behaviours and partnership approaches that can support practice.  

Recognising the significant impact of resource constraints, which professionals described during the initial consultation phase, the Principles intentionally focus on what can be done with what we currently have. This is not to say that wider system change, and greater investment, are not required. The Principles seek to be forward-facing in this regard, i.e., applicable in changing and challenging circumstances. 

The Practice Principles are not designed to replace existing guidance and toolkits. Instead, they are intended to complement both that which already exists and that which may emerge in the wake of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. They are also complementary to the ongoing evidence being generated by organisations such as the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care, the Early Intervention Foundation and the Youth Endowment Fund

What are the Practice Principles likely to say?

At this stage, eight core, interrelated Practice Principles have emerged. They reflect the behaviours that professionals, children and young people and parents and care-givers identified as important in the initial consultation, and align with the key themes identified by our rapid evidence review.  

The draft Principles emphasise that the response to child exploitation and extra-familial harm must: 

  1. put children and young people first 
  1. respect the voice, experience and expertise of children and young people 
  1. be strengths-based and relationship-based 
  1. recognise and respond to trauma 
  1. be curious, evidence-informed and knowledgeable 
  1. treat parents and care-givers as partners, where it is safe to do so 
  1. create safer spaces and places for children and young people 
  1. recognise and challenge inequalities, exclusion and discrimination. 

These draft Principles are being tested and explored through a second round of consultation with professionals (from a range of agencies including those working directly with children, young people parents and care-givers through to strategic leaders), young people and families. Once finalised, a number of supporting resources will be developed to help local areas apply them.  
These include: 

  • a reflective self-assessment tool for local partnerships, based on the eight Principles 
  • an animation to explain the evidence, ideas and interdependencies that underpin the Principles   
  • a succinct evidence summary considering  evidence limitations, key findings and implications  
  • an individual professional development tool supporting practitioners to reflect on the Principles, and their application to their own practice  
  • a resource to help local agencies and partnerships incorporate children and young people’s views at a strategic level  
  • a resource to support local agencies and partnerships to engage parents and carers as partners at a strategic level. 

The TCE Programme team is grateful to everyone who has contributed to the development of the draft Principles so far, and encourages professionals across the sector to contribute to the next phase of sense-checking.  
There are a number of events, all free to access. The team looks forward to seeing some of you there. 

And if you’re unable to attend an event, please share your thoughts via our survey , open to all until 4th November 2022.

Topics Covered

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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