Contextual safeguarding and extra-familial harm

Contextual safeguarding is the exploitation and abuse of children, young people and adults where the exploitation comes from outside the home.

Extra-familial harm is defined as risks to the welfare of children and young people that arise within the community or peer group, including sexual and criminal exploitation.

It includes child sexual exploitation, missing children, gangs, county lines, radicalisation, modern slavery and all forms of criminal exploitation. There are clear links across these areas, and it is vital that people, whether professionals or members of the public, know what to look out for and how to respond.

It recognises that the different relationships that young people and vulnerable adults form in their neighbourhood, schools and online can feature violence and abuse.

The risk for children, young people and adults can range from being denied the opportunity to make their own decisions, being in debt, threatened, coercion to commit criminal acts including violence and abuse, to becoming victims of violence including serious injury, rape and death.

For children, young people and adults affected by contextual exploitation and abuse they will have experienced trauma and may be in a state of hyperarousal. This will impact on them in a number of ways, including their:

  • Emotional, physical and mental well-being
  • Behaviour - Involvement in offending, going missing, use of alcohol, drugs, etc.
  • Family relationships adversely affected
  • Ability to access education and other services adversely affected
  • Willingness to trust and engage with adults reduced
County lines

County Lines is where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries (although not exclusively), usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs. The ‘County Line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs. Importing areas (areas where the drugs are taken to) are reporting increased levels of violence and weapons-related crimes as a result of this trend.

You can speak to your local police by dialling 101, or in an emergency 999. If you would rather remain anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. If you notice something linked to the railways, you can report concerns to the British Transport Police by texting 61016 from your mobile. In an emergency dial 999.


Cuckooing is a practice where people take over a person’s home and use the property to facilitate exploitation. It takes the name from cuckoos who take over the nests of other birds. People who choose to exploit will often target the most vulnerable in society. They establish a relationship with the vulnerable person to access their home.

Once they gain control over the victim, usually with threats to control the person - whether through drug dependency, debt or as part of their relationship – larger groups will sometimes move in. It is common for the drug dealers to have access to several cuckooed addresses at once, and to move quickly between them to evade detection.

The victims of cuckooing are often people who misuse substances such as drugs or alcohol, but there are cases of victims with learning difficulties, mental health issues, physical disabilities or socially isolated.

The most common form of cuckooing is where drug dealers take over a person’s home and use it to store or distribute drugs but there are different types of cuckooing:

  • Using the property to deal, store or take drugs
  • Using the property to sex work
  • Taking over the property as a place for them to live
  • Taking over the property to financially abuse the tenant
Sexual exploitation

Sexual Exploitation is a type of sexual abuse. When a child, young person or adult at risk is exploited they're given things, like gifts, drugs, money, status and affection, in exchange for performing sexual activities. Children, young people and adults at risk are often tricked into believing they're in a loving and consensual relationship. This is called grooming. They may trust their abuser and not understand that they're being abused.

Children, young people and adults at risk can be trafficked into or within the UK to be sexually exploited. They're moved around the country and abused by being forced to take part in sexual activities, often with more than one person. Children, young people and adults at risks in gangs can also be sexually exploited.

If you have concerns that a child, young person is being abused or exploited then please contact 999 in an emergency.

Modern slavery

Modern Slavery is a term used within the UK and is defined within the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Act categorises offences of Slavery, Servitude or Compulsory Labour and Human Trafficking. These crimes include holding a person or persons in a position of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour or facilitating their travel with the intention of exploiting them soon after. Although human trafficking commonly involves an international cross-border element it is also possible to be a victim of slavery or trafficking within your own country. Furthermore, it is also possible to be a victim even if consent has been given to be moved or travel.

With regard to children, it is important to note that they cannot give consent to being exploited and as such, the element of coercion or deception does not necessarily need to be present to prove an offence.

Types of Human Trafficking:

  • Sexual exploitation
  • Forced labour
  • Domestic servitude
  • Organ harvesting
  • Child related crimes such as child sexual exploitation, forced begging, illegal drug cultivation, organised theft and benefit fraud
  • Forced marriage

Crimestoppers and the GLAA (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority) have released nine common signs that victims of modern-day slavery share. These signs are intended to raise public awareness and encourage people to report their suspicions

Nine Signs to Spot

Victims of modern slavery may:

  1. Show signs of injury, abuse and malnourishment
  2. Look unkempt, often in the same clothing and have poor hygiene
  3. Be under the control and influence of others
  4. May have inappropriate clothing for the work they are performing, and/or a lack of safety equipment
  5. Be collected very early and/or returned late at night on a regular basis
  6. May be isolated from the local community and their family
  7. Live in cramped, dirty, overcrowded accommodation
  8. Have no access or control of their passport or identity documents
  9. Appear scared, avoid eye contact, seem untrusting

If you have suspicions of modern slavery then please contact the Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

NHS England have produced a video to explain Modern Slavery and its relevance and impact on healthcare. NHS England Modern Slavery Video


Prevent is about safeguarding and supporting those who may be vulnerable to radicalisation. Prevent is 1 of the 4 elements of CONTEST, the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. It aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.

Radicalisation is when someone starts to believe and support extreme aspirations around terrorism, political, social or religious ideals. Radicalisation is when someone starts to believe and support extreme aspirations. This can lead to participation in extremist groups, vocally or actively.

Anyone who is referred to Prevent is assessed by the local authority and other partners, including the police, to see if they’re suitable for Channel, Prevents specialist support scheme. Channel is a voluntary, confidential, early intervention programme that supports people who may be at risk of being drawn into terrorism.

Channel support includes things like theological or ideological mentoring, help with mental health, drug or alcohol abuse issues, as well as education and career advice. Taking part in Channel doesn’t go on someone’s criminal record and won’t negatively impact their future education or career prospects. It means getting the right kind of help for the person who needs support to move away from extremism.

To find out more about how to help someone close to you visit which is a helpful resource with advice, practical tips on how to start a conversation with someone you’re worried about, online safety advice and real stories.

If you have concerns about any of your friends, neighbours or relatives, you can tell Cheshire or Merseyside Police about them by completing a quick and simple online form on the Cheshire Police Prevent Referral Page or Merseyside Police Prevent Referral Page

In an emergency, please call 999  or you can call anonymously on 0800 789 321. You can also call the national police Prevent advice line 0800 011 3764, in confidence, to share your concerns with specially trained officers.

If you see online material promoting terrorism or extremism, you can report it online.

Further info can be found at Let’s Talk about it - What is Prevent

Professionals should also access information from their local Prevent Lead; please refer to your local safeguarding procedures for what to do next.