Case studies are real-life stories highlighting how agencies have worked to safeguard, protect, and support children and their families. They are an effective learning tool, providing professionals with the ability to see services and tools in action, understand a situation from a different perspective and demonstrate areas of good practice.
If you would like to submit a case study relating to the Child Exploitation Toolkit, please email the HSCP team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.
Parents against child exploitation (PACE) have developed some case studies based on families they have worked with.
Roisin and Amanda became friends in February 2011, although both have
attended the same Secondary School in Glasgow since first year. Roisin has
stated that ‘Eleanor got Amanda into meeting men online, and then Amanda tried
to get Roisin into it.
Roisin stated that last summer she and Amanda met Ryan (28 y/o) and his friend
(no name given) who was 24 y/o. Amanda met Ryan on Face book and agreed
to meet him. She told Roisin to ‘bring some condoms.’
Roisin went with Amanda to meet an older man, Ryan, and his friend whom she
had met on the Internet. The friend whom Roisin had sex with was 24. Amanda
still sees Ryan who is 28. Barnardo’s worker explored with Roisin why someone
in their twenties might want to meet someone much younger. Roisin stating she
can’t understand it either as they would have nothing to talk about, Roisin clearly
suspicious of Ryan’s continued contact with her friend. Roisin visibly upset
remembering meeting the males, stating she wouldn’t have gone through with it if
it hadn’t been for Amanda.
Roisin feeling she would still be a virgin if she had not become friends with
Amanda and would not drink as much. Roisin raising concerns about Amanda as
she is continuing to meet men she meets on Face book.
Roisin has recently disclosed that Amanda had been raped when she was 13
following meeting adult male(s) from online.
Jessica is 17 years old and has been supported by one of Barnardo’s sexual
exploitation projects for 2 years. She was just 14 when she became involved with
an older group of children, who introduced her to drugs.
‘My mum wasn’t around, my dad was drinking and spent most of his time internet
dating, and my sister had left home. I got involved with a group of friends outside
school – they were older – who were drinking and there were drugs,’ says
‘I was already drinking when I met them, but I’d never touched drugs before.
There was a lot of peer pressure to get involved. At first it was okay – I could get
the money from my dad. But after a couple of weeks, I was getting hooked and
there wasn’t enough money.
‘My new mates said that it was fine and introduced me to a new boy in the group.
They said he fancied me, they said that I should go out with him. I didn’t realise
what was happening – I was being set up. After I had slept with him – I realised
that I’d been used but it was too late. I ended up hooked on drugs. The need and
the want became more and more. Next thing was, he made me sleep with one of
his friends to clear a drugs debt…………..That was only the start of it.’
When Jessica was just turning 15 the ‘risk’ signs were already there. She had
family problems, was using alcohol and drugs and was staying out at night.
‘I had so many problems. I really needed my mum but she’d gone off with
another bloke. Dad didn’t care and my sister had gone off and was hardly ever in
touch. The drugs seemed like my only escape because I had no one. No one
seemed to care for me or be looking out for me. Yes, the situation was
frightening – but I didn’t know how I could change things,’ says Jessica.
At that point a Barnardo’s worker paid a visit to Jessica’s school. She was
chosen as part of the group to do a project about the dangers of abusive
relationships, how young people could be groomed and the signs to watch out
for. The education worker also gave a presentation about the help Barnardo’s
could offer. Unbeknown to her, Jessica had been identified at school as being a
girl ‘at risk’ of being sexually exploited. No one knew that it had already started.
‘My situation had got more and more frightening – then one night I was raped at
a party because I said no to someone my so called boyfriend had set me up with,
as a ‘favour’. I didn’t know what to do – I was desperate and had nowhere to go. I
couldn’t go home, I couldn’t tell my friends. It was really scary – but I knew I had
to do something and I went to the Barnardo’s project the education worker had
come from’, Jessica says.
‘Luckily there was someone working late and they helped me. I knew that I didn’t
want to live like this anymore. Even then – I knew that the drugs and abuse
wasn’t my destiny. So I changed it – with the project’s help’.
Two years on, Barnardo’s have helped Jessica get a place at college, gain
qualifications and find her own place to live. The days of drugs and abuse are
firmly in the past and she has made her ‘escape’ thanks to a lot of determination
and the support of the project.
She says: “They pick on vulnerable, lonely girls like me. They can almost sniff out
the needy, lost girls. The girls looking for love, who crave affection and who are
desperate to belong to something, anything.
‘Those words ‘child sexual exploitation’ they makes me shudder, makes my skin
crawl. I know that’s what happened to me and there was no way I could
recognise it at the time, I was so young and vulnerable.
‘And what was worse………..there was no way I could have stopped it on my
own, without help and without knowing Barnardo’s was there for girls just like
Sophie is 16. The oldest of six children, Sophie grew up caring for her mother
who suffered from mental health issues and her younger siblings. The family was
too proud to ask for help, so Sophie struggled on lonely and isolated, sacrificing
her childhood for others close to her.
‘I had a lot to do at home and I admit, sometimes it felt lonely. I started to get into
trouble at school for attendance and by the time I was 12, I began falling behind,’
‘I suppose I did feel isolated and I never seemed to get any attention at home.’
Typical of many young carers, Sophie craved attention and it was this
vulnerability that would make her the perfect target for an abuser, set on finding
‘I was 13 when I met him and it all seemed so exciting. I was invited to my
cousin’s 21st birthday party at her house and met this gorgeous guy. He said that
he was 18 and we swapped telephone numbers – it seemed so innocent at first,’
The guy started calling Sophie regularly. He took her to the cinema, bought her
thoughtful presents ‘daft bits of jewellery’ and paid her the attention she had
never experienced. Within weeks she was ‘hooked’ and there was no going back.
‘At first he really treated me well and it felt so normal, so right. My mum was
getting worried, but I did listen to her, I wouldn’t have listened to anyone, I was
totally in love,’ says Sophie.
‘But then he started to change. He got more aggressive and bad things started
happening. He’d hit me, but the next day say he was sorry. I’d always forgive
him. He started taking me to parties, he’d give me drink and we’d stay out all
night. It just got worse, worse, worse.’
Sophie was just 14. Her relationship with her mother was deteriorating rapidly,
she wouldn’t hear a word said against her ‘boyfriend’ and she had started to go
missing for days on end. Sophie was being dragged into a dangerous world of
drugs, alcohol and sex. Still a child, lonely and desperately in love, she was
powerless to resist.
‘The parties got worse and so did the way he treated me. At first I’d fight back,
but it was really hard. Then one night at a party, he took me and some friends
upstairs. He made me do things that I didn’t want to do. I was frightened,’ she
At first Sophie had told her mother that she was staying over with friends. She
regularly got grounded, but would then run away to be with her boyfriend. The
grip he had over her life was terrifying – Sophie just couldn’t see the danger she
‘Friends told me he was older, that he had a police record, but I wouldn’t believe
them. I called them a liar, I was still in love with him,’ she adds.
But Sophie’s regular episodes of running away hadn’t gone unnoticed. Her
mother had reported the incidents to the police and they became concerned at
her relationship with the older man. They began an investigation, interviewing
Sophie’s friends and then alerted the local Barnardo’s child sexual exploitation
‘From then on, every time I went missing the project worker came out to me. She
told me straight what he was doing and how it was not only me, but my family
that was at risk. Gradually, I began to see what was happening – I realised the
danger, that I needed to get out,’ Sophie says.
With the help of Barnardo’s, Sophie plucked up the courage to tell her abuser to
leave her alone. It wasn’t easy; he followed her, left messages and intimidated
friends. But with the support of Barnardo’s and the police, she was able to
escape the abuse.
‘Barnardo’s helped me realise what was happening, and then they helped me
escape. The worker helped me mend the broken relationship with my mum and
get the whole family back on track,’ Sophie explains.
Emma came into contact with Barnardo’s when she was 12-years-old and was
living in a children’s home. She had a history of running away and it was thought
that she had been sexually abused.
There were concerns that Emma was being sexually exploited on home visits or
when she absconded. It soon emerged that her mother had different men coming
to the house, who would often be physically abusive to her. The mother was a
known prostitute and the Barnardo’s worker believed that she was putting her
daughter on the streets, forcing her to sleep with men for money.
From the age of 8 or 9, her mother had taken little responsibility for her.
However, despite this Emma still loved her mother, felt protective towards her
and would put herself in danger to protect her mum. On the occasions that
Emma ran away from the care home, she would always head for her mother,
even though her flat was being used for “adult prostitution”.
Once at ‘home’ Emma would give the different men her mobile number, or go off
with them, so that they would leave her mother alone. She was putting herself at
risk, but she confided in her Barnardo’s worker that she just wanted to see her
mum. Emma just wanted to be part of a family, to be loved, to be treated as a
However, through working with Barnardo’s Emma finally came to understand that
by running away, she was risking her life. She realised that she couldn’t live with
her mother, because despite how much she loved her, the mother would put her
on the streets.
Emma is now 14 and for the first time in years, is attending a specialist school
regularly. She has discovered that she really enjoys ‘doing well’ and talks
enthusiastically about doing Karaoke with friends; or her new teachers – in fact
all the normal things 14-year-olds chat about.
Zoe was known to social work services all of her life and started having a drink
problem when she was just 11-years-old. Growing up against a chaotic
background where her mother was an alcoholic and in violent relationships. Zoe
used alcohol to block out the world. Before long she began running away from
home – at the time not realising the danger.
“No one really cared about me; I don’t think they noticed if I didn’t come home. I
didn’t like it when mum’s ‘boyfriend’ was around, I suppose I got scared.
So I started going missing for a few nights – I was 11. Then I met this boy, he
was 17 and really paid me a lot of attention. He let me stay in his house and I
thought he loved me. Then he forced me to have sex, I didn’t want this to
happen, I said no,” says Zoe.
Zoe’s drink problems accelerated and her ‘boyfriend’ introduced her to drugs.
Before long she had stopped attending school and was self-harming by cutting
herself. Eventually Zoe was placed in secure accommodation – but it was only a
temporary measure. The ‘missing’ episodes continued and when Zoe was 14 a
friend introduced her to yet another older man, he was 35-years-old and quickly
realised the youngster’s vulnerability.
“He’d pick me up and take me to loads of different places to meet his friends.
Sometimes we’d go with other girls. At first it was all right,” Zoe adds.
Although she didn’t know it, Zoe was being groomed. After three months her new
‘boyfriend’ started getting violent, he’d punch and kick her. Then he’d demand
sex and didn’t appear to care that he hurt her. Zoe couldn’t make him stop. Then
one day she was taken to one of the ‘regular flats’ and he told her to have sex
with his friends. Isolated and frightened Zoe said ‘no way’, but when her
‘boyfriend’ threatened to beat her, she was forced to do as she’d been told. This
was how the pattern of sexual exploitation started. It happened more and more,
different towns, different flats. Often she was not alone; other girls were being
But Zoe’s behaviour and constant missing episodes had raised concerns with
social services and at this point Barnardo’s became involved. Within three
months her missing episodes had dropped from several episodes every week, to
one or two per month. Gradually she came to realise that she was not to ‘blame’
for her own abuse, there had been a complex process of grooming and sexual
exploitation. Today Zoe is back in education. She’s stopped running away, self
harming and has set herself ‘life goals’. For many these would seem small steps,
but for Zoe her life has been completely turned around.
Today Zoe has just passed her Maths and English exams and has applied for a
college place to continue her studies. She’s moved away from the men who
abused her and finally feels safe.
‘The best thing was just having someone to talk to,’ she says. ‘Thanks to the
Barnardo’s staff, I went back to college and have a place to live and now my life
is back on track.
Pamela is an 18 year old young person who was referred to the service through
the local area social work team. Pamela has a diagnosis of a genetic disorder
which was assessed by social work as placing her at a functioning age closer to
Pamela had recently given birth to a child as a result of an exploitative
relationship with an older male she met online. The male posed as 20 years old
in his online persona and developed an online friendship with Pamela prior to
meeting her. When Pamela met with the male she agreed to go with him to his
car to help him with his laptop, despite him being significantly older. Pamela and
the male were in contact for a number of months before the relationship was
terminated by the male upon learning of Pamela’s pregnancy. There were
concerns about Pamela’s capacity to assess risks, her desire to re-connect with
the male, and subsequent long term child protection concerns.
Pamela had experienced a considerable amount of trauma and disadvantage
throughout her life and in her relationships. , This appeared to impact her sense
of self worth and confidence. She expressed feeling at fault for her experiences
and was initially protective of the older male.
A Barnardo’s service worked with Pamela to help Pamela to develop an
understanding of exploitation and the process of ‘Grooming’. She was also able
to think critically of the older male’s motivation, and understand her own
experience through this lens. This learning was incorporated into a wider
understanding of how to identify and respond to risky situations; both online and
Pamela also recognized her struggles with confidence, and the impact this had
on her autonomy and ability to assert her rights. The service therefore
additionally provided work around confidence in order to boost Pamela’s sense of
capacity and autonomy, and reduce Pamela’s vulnerability to exploitative
Barnardo’s also attended the Child Protection meetings for Pamela’s child,
providing advocacy and support to Pamela throughout this process.
Vicky was referred to the Barnardo’s service by CAMHS who had become aware
some time ago that there had been incidents of Vicky posting sexual images
online. This had been discovered by her mum who had since restricted her home
computer use. Social work services had become involved at mum’s request but
the case was then closed after assessment that risk had been removed. CAMHS
remained concerned that Vicky had a lack of awareness of the exploitative nature
of relationships that she had had online and was still vulnerable to further
The service accepted the referral and began weekly sessions at the service
base, focusing on the following outcomes –
o Knowledge of Sexual Health Strategies
o Able to Identify abusive/exploitative behaviour
o Recovery from sexual abuse/exploitation
o Able to describe safety strategies
o Reduction in level of risk/harm
o Reduced association with risky adults/peers
o Remains in regular contact with the service
o Awareness of own rights and those of others
During the course of initial work Vicky disclosed an unhealthy peer relationship
which had led to further face to face sexual exploitation and it was apparent that
she was still at significant risk of resuming online relationships. The service made
a Child Protection referral to social work services and we continued to support
Vicky during the subsequent investigation.
The service progressed work with Vicky – supporting her to identify the grooming
process of intentionality and control that she had experienced in her relationships
online. In time Vicky’s perception of these as being loving relationships changed
to where she was slowly able to acknowledge and disclose incidents of blackmail
Work was undertaken to inform Vicky of the nature of perpetrator behaviours, the
grooming process and also the concept of exploitation as abuse, with focus on
Vicky’s right to protection and safety. But also included input where Vicky was
able to identify her motivations for seeking out adult relationships; using the time
& space to explore her sense of self, her identity including sexual identity and to
articulate her views on her own experiences.
By the end of contact Vicky considered she was still at some risk of reaching out
for adult relationships but that this was minimal. She felt she had an increased
confidence in managing her own emotional needs, and with the additional
support that she was now receiving from various services she now had increased
protective factors and was participating in age appropriate activities that met her
intellectual needs and had focus for her future.
Christopher was referred to a Barnardo’s service by his social worker when he
was seventeen years old. He had been looked after since he was very young and
had recently suffered a breakdown in his long-term foster placement, after he
had made an allegation against an older male neighbour. Christopher stated that
he no longer felt safe in this placement.
Christopher had suffered significant abuse and trauma which resulted in him
being accommodated from an early age. He had ongoing mental health issues
and was struggling with both his sexuality and his gender and spent a significant
amount of time living under a female identity. In addition there were significant
concerns regarding Christopher’s use of alcohol and drugs, sexual health and
risk taking behaviours and his relationships (both with peers and adults).
He was referred to the service as workers were very concerned, as he was going
out and frequenting bars in the city centre and coming back to his
accommodation heavily under the influence. He had also been found by the
police in the city centre unconscious on several occasions and has also
disclosed several incidents where he alleged that he had been sexually
assaulted. Christopher continuously stated that he did not believe that he was at
any risk and that he could not understand why workers were concerned about
The service met with Christopher over a period of four months. Initial contacts
were very short and occurred fortnightly, however as Christopher got to know
and trust workers, we slowly managed to increase the frequency of these
contacts to weekly. During the time that we worked with Christopher, his
accommodation broke down which resulted in him becoming homeless and living
in unstable accommodation. We tried to link him into another Barnardo’s project
that could support him to access more suitable accommodation but Christopher
was reluctant to meet any more workers and did not follow through with this.
More information emerged regarding his involvement in sexual exploitation
although Christopher repeatedly stated that he was not at any risk and did not
want to acknowledge or discuss this part of his life. His use of alcohol and drugs
increased and his mental health deteriorated and he eventually withdrew from
engaging with the service and other workers in his care plan. Christopher
acknowledged that the service allowed him to be himself and was honest and up
front with him regarding his behaviours and experiences. We also consistently
challenged him regarding some of his behaviours. This ensured that Christopher
was always aware of what he could expect from the service and that workers
were there for him if he wanted to talk about anything. We also helped him to put
his views across at his meetings, although this became increasingly difficult due
to Christopher’s own uncertainty regarding who he was, how he felt and what he
wanted to happen. The service currently has no contact with Christopher,
although we continue to keep a look out for him through street work. It is
understood that he is engaging with some workers and has been referred to a
suitable accommodation project.
Emily is 15 years old.
Emily lives with her mother and her younger brother. Emily’s mother is a single
parent. Domestic abuse had been present in previous relationships, including
Emily’s father. Emily and her brother had also been hit by partners in the past
and when they were young had witnessed domestic violence and a sexual
assault of their mother within the family home.
Emily’s mother was no longer in a relationship, although she was diagnosed with
depression and also continued to use alcohol as a coping mechanism, drinking
most evenings. Emily’s relationship with her mother appears to be more of a
‘volatile friendship’ than a daughter and the levels of supervision, rules, routines
and boundaries have not been appropriate to Emily’s age and stage of
development for a number of years. Social work did not currently have this as an
Emily’s school attendance has been poor for a number of years and school have
made many attempts to work with mum in regard to this but mum does not follow
through with meetings or strategies.
Emily bought a Blackberry Messenger phone and through BBM has been
indiscriminate in who she contacts and who has her own contact details.
Emily’s mother has not been monitoring who and where Emily is in the evenings
and in the last year Emily has increasingly been hanging out with slightly older
friends, drinking and attending parties. On a couple of occasions Emily engaged
in underage sexual activity while attending these parties with a 16 year old boy,
later Emily would also disclose that she was sexually assaulted by an older male
while drunk at a party but that she did not report this.
Emily started going out with a boyfriend at school who was her own age. They
used their mobile phones for ‘sexting’. Initially exchanging text with sexual
content but then also exchanging pictures. Emily sent her boyfriend a number of
sexually explicit photos of herself. The boyfriend showed these photos to friends
of his and then also sent them on. Emily split up with him following this. However,
due to the bullying this instigated within the school Emily rarely attended school
over a number of months and began to drink more and hang out with older young
people in the community.
Emily began to be sexual activity with a number of these ‘friends’ who at the time
she did not think were exploiting her but is now aware that she was being
groomed. Emily began attending parties on her own and has now disclosed that
on a couple of occasions when drunk she slept with not only her ‘boyfriend’ but
also a ‘friend’. In addition to this Emily was being increasingly targeted either for
bullying through BBM by peers or sexual advances by older ‘friends’.
Due to the complete disengagement of Emily from school and the lack of
response from her mother school put in a Child Concern Report to Social Work.
Initial home visits felt that the case was not sufficiently concerning to be opened
and that School Community Support Services should be able to engage Emily
back in school. However this was unsuccessful and Emily’s brother also
disclosed concerns to a guidance teacher that he was worried about his sister.
This led to a further Child Concern Report and referrals to specialist CSE and
alternative to education resources.
It took both these services a number of months to build a relationship with Emily
and for the above information to be disclosed so that she could be supported with
all of these issues. Emily has not returned to school but is hoping to now attend
college and is engaged in group work with other young people looking at issues
around CSE and work they can do to raise awareness of the risks for other
Angela and Sarah are aged 12 and 14 and both live at home. They do not have
good relationship with their family or peers and do not engage well at school.
They were first approached by Barnardo’s CSE service late at night in town when
they were seen approaching adult men and asking for cigarettes, they also said
they were stranded and couldn’t get home. When it became apparent that these
jaunts into town were not just one-off incidents the team invited the girls to the
Barnardo’s office to discuss risk-taking behaviour.
By this time both girls had stopped going to school, Angela stopped attending
after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted in the playground but no
action had been taken. Sarah didn’t want to go to school – embarrassed about
only having two tops. She had little access to basic needs such as food and
clothing. Her elder sister had been arrested on two occasions for shoplifting food.
Barnardo’s staff had contact with the girls 2/3 times a week and as their
confidence in town grew so did their risk taking behaviour such as running away
from home and involvement in sexual exploitation. They were regularly supported
to return home and the project workers gained the trust of the girls which enabled
them to gather more and more information as they opened up.
As it turned out Angela had a very bad relationship with her mother, when she
disclosed that her dad had sexually abused her, her mum refused to believe her.
Sarah’s relationship with her dad fell apart when she found out he had lied about
her mum’s death.
Risk indicators for the girls included going missing for long periods of time and
their parents didn’t know where. They had no awareness of their rights or the
risks associated with their behaviours. They received little communication or
warmth from their family, used alcohol inappropriate to their age, did not attend
school and both had histories of abuse and neglect.
James is 15yo and has grown up in a chaotic home prior to being
accommodated. James’ mum suffers from significant mental health difficulties,
and has made several suicide attempts, on occasion when James has been
James has experienced violence from his dad, stepdad and other partners of his
mum during his time living at home. James has also witnessed domestic violence
against his mum and as the oldest son has tried to protect both her and his
siblings from this violence. James became accommodated in a local authority
children’s unit following a significant incident of violence from one of his mum’s
James is very protective of his mum and there are indications of a co-dependent
relationship between them. James will sometimes share that he feels he hasn’t
done well to protect his family. James’ mum will still seek James’ support in times
James was referred to the service following missing episodes and the disclosure
James identifies himself as gay and his experiences of sexual exploitation began
age 15 through making contact with males in social networking and dating sites
James is quite shy and has difficulty in developing relationships. He felt it would
be easier to meet someone, just like him. Someone who wanted to meet other
people, maybe a partner, but who like him struggled to start up conversations.
Initial contacts involved online chat and trying to get to know these males. James’
online profile stated he was older; otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to post
on the sites. However James was always upfront in chat that he was only 15yrs
Some of these conversations progressed to James being invited to meet up face
to face. Meetings have taken place in various places – hotels, car parks/parked
cars, and at houses in locations across the country. All of these males have been
adults – ranging from 20 – 45year of age and have been aware of James age at
the time of contact.
Unfortunately James has difficulties in assessing risk and judging character – a
result of his significant early relationships, causing him to be vulnerable to the
skills of perpetrator males in grooming him. James feels now that he has been
naive to have believed that these males wanted to have equal relationships
rather than the abusive, exploitative relationships he has experienced.
James has been raped, contracted STIs, and has been hospitalised as a result of
infection. His esteem has been damaged with increased feelings of rejection and
he now has an increased sense of vulnerability.
James is slight in build and presentation and was told by one of the males who
abused him that what appealed to him was James’ vulnerable child-like
appearance, adding he looked like a 12yo.
Since working with the service James has an increased awareness of the
motivations of these adult perpetrators to have power and control over him.
James is now working with supports to build positive pro-social relationships into
his day to day experiences, support in reducing his feelings of isolation and
inadequacy and increasing his opportunities to increase his self regard and his
The work is supporting his recovery from child sexual exploitation and developing
his skills and confidence to be able to engage in equal relationships in the future.