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Case work and engagement approaches

The key to responding to exploitation is to support the young person to establish and maintain as many trusting and safe relationships as possible. These relationships begin to erode the power of the alleged abuser, provide the young person with a contrast to the abusive relationship and allow them to seek help.

Flexible and focused service delivery is crucial in developing a relationship with the young person and meeting their immediate needs.


Placing restrictions on young people, for example restricting them from leaving the house or imposing strict curfews, doesn’t work. Instead, help parents and safe people to identify how they can encourage the young person to want to be at home.

Practice considerations:

Case planning in response to sexual exploitation

Conversation ideas:

Talking with young person, parents and other safe person

Work with all safety and support network members, including parents, to focus on meeting the young person’s basic needs for sleep, housing, food and connection.

Encourage them to:

  • resist the urge to lecture them about their sexual safety, especially when the young person is tired, hungry or physically hurt
  • accept and acknowledge that the young person may struggle to talk about what is happening for them
  • provide a safe place for them to rest and clean themselves
  • let them know that you care about them and you are worried about them
allow the young person some time to tell you about their experiences. Do not pressure them to give you information.

Talk with the young person:

“I can see you are really tired and I can also see that you have been hurt. I am so worried about you but right now you need to sleep. Let’s meet up and talk later today about what we can do together.”

“Sometimes kids get caught up in relationships that seem really caring at first, but then turn scary. It can be really hard to talk about what’s going on.”

Talking with parents and safety and support network members:

“I know it is probably really hard not to ask [young person] lots of questions as soon as they walk through the door. But by concentrating on giving them a calm quiet space to come home to, they might want to be at home and tell you more about what is going on for them.”

Provide the young person with information about sexual exploitation. It can be helpful to provide the young person with new information at different points during your work with them. Their thoughts and feelings are likely to change as their relationship with the alleged abuser changes.

Consider showing them resources or asking them to look at things a different way (a friend’s perspective or sibling’s perspective).

“This video is not exactly about your situation, but I wonder if you would mind watching it with me so we can both figure out if any of these things could be happening for you?”

“Let’s pretend that your best mate was going out with [alleged abuser ]. Would you be worried about them? Would you have any advice for them?”

Help the young person to develop a safety plan. This plan should build on things the young person is already doing and should provide them with as many strategies as possible.

Some ideas include:

  • knowing the first and last names of people they are hanging out with
  • having a small amount of money hidden somewhere in case they need to make a phone call or get a taxi
  • having a list of emergency numbers (including a taxi number) hidden in a few places such as in their bag and mobile phone
  • having credit on their phone
  • making sure someone knows where they are going and who they are with
  • carrying condoms and making sure they know how to use them
  • making sure the young person knows where they are going
  • avoiding alcohol if possible
  • avoiding all drugs if possible, or else making sure a trusted friend is with them
  • checking in with a friend before deciding to go with someone.
Write these ideas down with the young person and ask the safety and support network to reinforce these strategies and ideas. Attach this plan to ICMS and encourage professionals to do the same to ensure consistent decision making at times of crisis for the young person.

Talking with the young person:

“I am really worried about you. How are you keeping yourself safe? What do you do? What do your friends do?”

“You said you stay safe by always telling your friends where you are? What else could you do? Do you think you could let me know where you are staying at night also?”

“If you do go off with someone and you’re not sure where you are, look for places such as parks, shops, churches. If you’re on a bus or train are you able to remember where you are going and the nearest stops?”

Talk to as many supportive family and friends as possible to develop the safety and support network.

  • Be upfront about your worries for the young person.
  • Understand what they can offer the young person.
  • Give them responsibility for engaging the young person in safe activities that they enjoy.
  • Help them develop ideas for how they can talk to the young person about their worries.
  • If the young person cannot identify anyone who can support them ask their parents, teachers, youth workers and friends to nominate anyone who cares about them and develop a safety and support network.

Talking to the young person:

“I am really worried that [alleged abuser] is hurting you. I can’t keep you safe on my own. Who else do you trust? What will they do? Let’s call them now.”

Talking to safety and support network (family, friends and professionals):

“I am really worried that [young person] is being forced to have sex. I know you are really committed to [young person]. What can you do to support them?”

“We know that [young person] is feeling very scared and very alone right now. What do you think might happen for them if they keep going down this road? What can you do to keep them safe?”

Develop strong relationships with youth services and other professionals involved with the young person. Understand how they work with young people, get to know the office and develop a detailed knowledge of the steps the young person will need to take in order to receive a service.

Ask the young person what they would like in a youth service and other support agencies and work with services to understand their capacity to meet the young person’s needs.

Suggested questions include:

  • Are support services able to meet the young person somewhere that they are comfortable?
  • Are they are able to provide education to a group of young people who have been identified as being at risk of sexual exploitation?
  • Are they able to meet the young person with a friend?
  • Are they able to facilitate a casual ‘drop in’ visit from the young person and their friend?
“Sometime youth workers and other professionals can really help when you are having a confusing time. Have you ever been to a youth service? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Would you mind if I called around some of the good services to see if one could work for you?”

Work with the community to:

  • help them identify the warning signs for sexual exploitation
  • find out where sexual exploitation is / might be occurring. Develop a plan for monitoring these locations and preventing sexual exploitation
  • encourage community members to speak out about sexual exploitation.
“Where do the teenagers who are not in school / in refuges / drinking hang out? Are there ever any older guys hanging out there? What are they doing?”

Contextual safeguarding

A group of researchers from the University of Bedfordshire developed strategies in order to keep young people safer within the environment they are in. They have called their approach Contextual Safeguarding (Firmin, 2018). Contextual safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

They argue that given the strong influence of peer relationships on young people, it is important to consider the influence of those relationships and the environments in which they unfold in any kind of constructive intervention that keeps young people safe beyond their families. Contextual safeguarding utilises creative ideas in relation to young people’s safety and support networks, for example neighbourhood contacts (like the local library with free internet access). The below diagram illustrates some of the layers which are at play and have influence of young people’s lives.

Practice prompt

You may come across some young people who are unable to identify safe or supportive family or friends which makes it develop a safety and support network around the young person. This is a clear indication that the young person is very isolated. Continue to be curious about people who could become part of their safety and support network. Ask the young person’s parents, siblings, extended family, teachers and agency workers to identify possible supports for the young person as well as asking the young person to identify these people themselves. Remember to be curious about past relationships as it may be possible for the young person to reconnect with these people.

Further reading

Online risks, child exploitation and grooming, Bravehearts.

Contextual Safeguarding website and resources.

BWise2 Sexual Exploitation resource, Barnardos (2007).

Supporting young people at risk of sexual exploitation

Youth services can:

  • provide activities for young people, foster strong relationships and provide a safe place for them to have their basic needs met
  • provide education about sexual health and respectful relationships
  • identify patterns in offending behaviour, for example, targeting other young people in the area.

Youth health services can:

  • run informal education sessions about healthy and respectful relationships
  • review and address any alcohol and other drugs use / mental health concerns
  • provide the young person with sexual health information
  • provide the young person with free services to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

Education services can:

  • foster strong relationships with the young person and provide you with information about the young person’s whereabouts.

Work with the Queensland Police Service


Share your concerns and work with the QPS to address sexual exploitation. Police can do a number of things to make it difficult for the suspected alleged abuser to access the child. Together, you can build a better picture of the suspected alleged abuser or offender’s activities and any other offences.

When you believe a criminal offence has occurred you can ask police to:

  • have a strong presence where the young person and the alleged abuser meet
  • conduct a welfare check on the young person (at places they frequent)
  • conduct a criminal record check on the alleged abuser to see if they have any outstanding warrants or other matters
  • follow the alleged abuser to where you believe they are planning to meet with the young person
  • investigate and gather information on whether or not an offence has occurred
  • discuss the appropriateness of applying for a domestic violence order on behalf of a young person.

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