Identifying, preventing and responding to individual children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation using the SERAF
The Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Framework (SERAF) – attached at Appendix B
The SERAF has been developed to support professionals’ thinking around children who may be at risk of or currently being sexually exploited. The tool has been created to support, rather than replace professional’s judgement. Professional curiosity and professional judgement are key to understanding a child’s lived experience and to understand the nature and level of risks they are facing at any given time. Child sexual exploitation is a complex form of abuse and it can be difficult for those working with children to identify and assess. The indicators for child sexual exploitation can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours’. It requires knowledge, skills, professional curiosity and an assessment which analyses the risk factors and personal circumstances of individual children to ensure that the signs and symptoms are interpreted correctly and that appropriate support is given (DfE, 2017). The SERAF tool should initiate debate and discussion. It should support practitioners in considering the specific risks a child is facing, to support their thinking around whether a child is at risk of significant harm and whether the current plan addresses the child’s needs and if not what areas need to be explored/ covered further.
When to complete a SERAF
A SERAF should be completed when there is some thoughts/ concerns that a child may be at risk of or be subject to child sexual exploitation. It is not meant to be a screening tool that can be used to identify children at risk of child sexual exploitation with no prior concerns in this area.
- a SERAF should be carried out at regular intervals (at least every three months) to record any increase or reduction in risk and should inform appropriate intervention
- a SERAF should always be carried out following a change in circumstances. For example, a change in placement as this can have a significant impact on risk
- the lead professional is responsible for ensuring the SERAF is updated by the most relevant professional – usually the professional with the best working relationship with the child
How to complete a SERAF
It is essential that all available information is recorded on the SERAF. The reasons why each vulnerability, moderate and significant risk factor has been ticked should be explained by the person completing the SERAF.
The SERAF should include the child’s voice and understanding of their situation. Where there are differences of opinion between the professional completing the SERAF and the child this should be noted but professionals need to be clear about their views.
Views of other professionals and parents/ carers should be sought in order to complete the SERAF.
This section of the SERAF includes factors that we know may render children and young people vulnerable to being targeted for child sexual exploitation. Each vulnerability is a scaling system with vulnerabilities recoded as 1.
Moderate risk indicators
This section of the SERAF includes indicators that are associated with risk of, or that may indicate abuse through, sexual exploitation. These should be ticked if they are currently present or have been present during the past six months. Each moderate risk indicator should be recorded as 1.
Significant risk indicators
These risk indicators are very prevalent in cases where children and young people are at risk of, or are being abused through, sexual exploitation. In order to monitor any change in risk over time as a result of intervention or a change in circumstances it is important to know whether the risk indicator is current (on date of referral or in past six months) or recent (between 6 and 12 months ago). If the risk indicator is current or has occurred in the past six months record as 5 (right hand column). Where the risk indicator was present between 6 and 12 months ago but has not been present in the past six months record as 1 (left hand column). If a significant risk factor has been present during the past six months and was present between 6 and 12 months ago both columns should be ticked and recorded as 6 in relation to that significant risk indicator.
Each significant risk indicator should only be ticked in relation to those for adults outside the family (unless it was a family member who was facilitating/coordinating the exploitation). For instance, emotional abuse by controlling adult – should not be ticked in relation to a parent – it is asking about any exploitative relationships the child/ young person is involved in outside of their family.
Cases involving children under the age of 13 who have one or more of the significant risk indicators present should score an additional 5 to be added to the total to reflect the additional vulnerability of their age.
Once the form is completed a total score can be worked out. This generates a category of risk:
- 0-5 = Category 1: (Not at risk)
- 6-10= Category 2: (Mild risk)
- 11-15= Category 3: (Moderate risk)
- 16 + = Category 4: (Significant risk)
Analysing the information within the SERAF and professional judgement
It is not the numerical score at the end of the SERAF which is the most important but a careful analysis of the information contained within the SERAF. There are times when the “score” can be relatively low and yet a professional is very concerned for that child – this needs to be articulated within the SERAF, clearly explaining why the professional remains concerned. There may be other vulnerabilities not listed on the SERAF which the professional considers important and this should be written about and discussed in the SERAF. Professional curiosity is what enables practitioners to gather the information needed to complete the SERAF and it is with professional judgment that the practitioner explains their views on whether a child is suffering/ likely to suffer significant harm in the form of sexual exploitation or in some other form. When completing a SERAF other vulnerabilities for a child may be highlighted and these will need consideration and follow up.
Attention should be paid as to whether the score mainly relates to vulnerabilities / moderate risk factors/ significant risk factors. Consideration should be given as to what this tells you about the child’s current situation.
The SERAF is a very specific risk assessment tool which can be used to explore the risk of sexual exploitation. The numerical point scoring should only be used with professional judgement to assess the level of risk a child may be at from sexual exploitation. It is from the professional judgement that recommended actions and plans are made to reduce the risks. South Gloucestershire’s threshold matrix, A Child’s Journey of Need should also be used to consider the appropriate level of intervention/action. If a child is being sexually exploited this will require a Tier 4 response. Thresholds cannot be decided on the basis of the numerical score of a SERAF alone. Following a SERAF assessment professionals can match the child/young person’s needs and vulnerability with the appropriate assessment and provision of support and services, based on the best outcomes for them. See Threshold Matrix, A Child’s Journey of Need for further information.
Responding to the SERAF
Providing an appropriate response requires a protective network for children and young people and effectiveness depends heavily on a multi-agency response.
If any of the significant risk indicators are identified but the child is categorised as ‘not at risk’ or as at ‘mild risk’ a discussion with the team manager and any other professionals or carers involved in the child’s life should take place and a record should be made regarding whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect the child is suffering/ is likely to suffer significant harm. If the judgement is that there are reasonable cause to suspect significant harm a referral needs to be made immediately to ART/ allocated social work team so that a strategy discussion can be convened.
The suggested associated actions and suggested interventions regarding each category of risk are set out below. As outlined above it is not the numerical score that is the most significant part of the SERAF and the professional judgement within the SERAF should indicate the level of intervention/ response needed and what the plan will need to contain.