Article: Is CSE training a tick-box exercise?

Originally published on the Pace blog.

In a recent YouGov report that we commissioned with Virtual College, we found that 6 in 10 (62%) of the 945 safeguarding professionals (teachers/police/social workers) surveyed had received some form of training on child sexual exploitation. But what form does that training take? Is it recent, comprehensive, or ongoing? Jim Gamble of INEQE recently asked us about this on twitter.


So, we’ve gone back to the results of the survey to find out more about what professionals told us about the training they have received.

When was training completed?

Of those who reported receiving training, the vast majority said they had been trained in the past two years. The rise seen in the graph showing when training was received is encouraging because it means training is either fairly regular, or that it has increasingly been included in recent years and more professionals are being trained than were three to five years ago.


In addition to these quantitative questions, we asked those who reported being trained to tell us about the nature of that training in an open question.

Frequency of training on CSE seems to vary; some respondents mentioned being trained yearly, while others said it was every two years, every three years, or that it had been a one-off training. A few professionals stated that a lot of time had passed since they were trained and that it was not ongoing.

“[It was] a long time ago. It was about recognising some signs in teenagers. Not really very detailed and not repeated in recent years.”

What does training cover?

The most common responses relating to the content of the training were that it covered how to spot the signs and what to do, including what procedures to follow:

“More generalised training re what to do if a child discloses information, or if I suspect something is wrong.”
“Spotting the first signs of abuse and informing the correct authorities.”

Particular topics that also featured more frequently were disclosure, online safety, perpetrators and grooming tactics, organisations that can help, as well as child sexual exploitation generally and abuse generally.


However, there was a large variety in the responses received, which covered mentions of everything from honour-based violence to domestic abuse, bullying, trafficking, gangs, sex offences and forced marriage.

Support for victims and families and prevention were only specifically mentioned by a small handful of those surveyed. In our focus group that led up to the development of the survey, professionals told us that training often focuses on what to look for, but can be lacking in detailing effective interventions.

“[Training included] what to look out for, including a video, but nothing on how to help the children using multi agency/multi approach methods.”

This is also reflected in results from both the focus group and survey relating to identifying vulnerabilities for CSE. While professionals identified the top vulnerability for CSE to be low self-esteem, focus group participants discussed how training doesn’t necessarily reflect this. As one participant put it, this knowledge came “mainly from experience – training has tended to focus on more practical rather than emotional vulnerabilities.” 

What are the most identified training sources?

According to our open question responses, training on child sexual exploitation often seems to be contained as part of wider training in child protection or safeguarding.

“In fact it was a safeguarding course online which covered sexual abuse, but not really specifically exploitation, which isn’t precisely the same thing.”
“Briefly mentioned as part of statutory safeguarding training.”


After safeguarding and child protection training, self-learning including online courses, handouts, videos and PowerPoint presentations is the most mentioned form of training on CSE. Others taking a lead role in training according to our open question data are CEOP, the police and the local authority. A small number mentioned being trained by external agencies and there are one or two mentions for the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Just Whistle, the Children’s Society, WISE (What is Sexual Exploitation), ECPAT UK & Every Child Matters, and multi-agency hubs. There were also a few mentions of training as part of in-service training, INSET days, and presentations by colleagues.

Some comments we received suggest professionals want a more dedicated focus given to the topic, while others did note that more detailed training was given to professionals with a designated status.

What is the quality of the training?

Most (91%) of those who have received training found it useful in their role. However, in the open answers there was a wide range of comments relating to quality when it comes to the content, format and length of the training.

There were just five mentions of training as part of CPD. Some said training on the topic was “very brief” and there is mention of online courses running at only two hours. Content is noted as not always comprehensive (ex. Covered only online/internet aspects).

“Second rate training in response to medias [sic] concerns.”
“They can technically say we’ve been ‘trained’.”

In the focus group conducted in advance of the survey, professionals told us that they want more training, better training and ongoing training and this was again brought out in the survey results.

“It was a one day training course and feel it should be more.”
“Our training was about online grooming, but I was thinking as I filled this in, how some of our staff might benefit from a dedicated CPD on this subject.”

What are the outcomes of training?

Those who are trained are far more likely than their untrained counterparts to report confidence in spotting the signs and to feel they have the right resources to identify CSE and act.


In many ways this difference is not surprising as it reflects the idea that if you know what to look for, you will find it. Still, one in four of those who said they have not been trained on CSE reported experiencing cases in their role. This is concerning – professionals in key positions facing cases of CSE are telling us that they still do not have the right training, evidence or guidance to work effectively with children who have been sexually exploited.

What can we take from these results?

While it is certainly encouraging to see more professionals are being trained on CSE, the qualitative open answers show a mixed picture.

What is clear is that there is still much work to be done on ensuring professionals have the training, guidance and information they need to prevent, identify or address child sexual exploitation in their role. We need to continue the momentum and expand training to more front-line professionals. We need to ask more questions about the role of the police, teachers and social workers when it comes to training for prevention, intervention and support. And, we need to ensure training on CSE is consistent, ongoing and dedicated rather than buried in other training modules.

A positive outcome of the survey is the number of professionals we see showing a desire for more information. As one of our focus group participants said when we asked what training professionals would like to see: “As much as possible!” “More joined up training. A greater evidence base for effective interventions – there is a risk that CSE is now more widely identified but no closer to being prevented.”

Read the full YouGov report: Are Parents in the Picture? Professional & parental perspectives of child sexual exploitation [PDF].