Child sexual exploitation: a guide for health practitioners

Guidelines for health practitioners on identifying and responding to a child or young person who may be at risk of or affected by sexual exploitation.

1. Introduction

Child sexual exploitation is child abuse and like any form of abuse can have a devastating impact on victims and their families.

It is vital that we are able to identify a child or young person at risk of or experiencing sexual exploitation in the first instance, in order to remove their risk of harm and ensure that they receive appropriate, high quality support.

Tackling child sexual exploitation is set within the wider context of Scottish Government activity to improve the wellbeing of children and young people, and to tackle all forms of child abuse and neglect.

The National Action Plan to Prevent and Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation, updated in 2016 set outcomes to be progressed to achieve our aim of eliminating child sexual exploitation in Scotland. The following guidance contributes to the outcomes of reducing the risk of sexual exploitation through prevention and early identification.

Purpose of Guidance

Children and young people at risk of child sexual exploitation may present across a range of health settings and in a variety of ways.

This guidance is for health practitioners in Scotland, to outline their role in identifying and responding to a child or young person who may be at risk or affected by sexual exploitation.

It aims to:

  • Ensure practitioners are alert to this form of complex child abuse.
  • Help practitioners spot the signs that a child or young person may be at risk of, or be experiencing child sexual exploitation.
  • Emphasise that child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse, and requires a child protection response.
  • Outline the responsibilities of health practitioners to take action in line with local NHS Board and Child Protection Committee Child Protection procedures, including sharing information.
  • Highlight the importance of appropriate communication with children and young people in helping to identify and respond to disclosures.

The guidance expands on information on child sexual exploitation contained within existing National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland, 2014 and encourages a response in line with local Child or Adult Protection processes, and should be read in conjunction with those documents.

Practitioners should make use of existing resources, tools and training available to them within their local NHS Board area.

Vulnerable Young People

Any young person until the age of 18 can be vulnerable to child sexual exploitation. Where the young person is between the ages of 16 and 18, the procedures to be followed will depend on the circumstances and relevant legislation. Where Child Protection Procedures do not apply, perhaps due to their age or specific circumstances, consideration should be given to the use of Adult Protection Procedures. If in doubt, advice should be sought from your Child Protection lead/team.


Email: Katrina McDonald

Phone: 0300 244 4000 - Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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