Increasingly, it is recognised that sexual exploitation of children can continue beyond the age of 18, and the impact can be ongoing for young people reaching adulthood. This systematic review aims to synthesise existing qualitative international evidence to inform how services can better respond to young people impacted by child sexual exploitation, and how they can be supported in their transition to adulthood.
This review found significant gaps in what is understood about young people who have experienced sexual exploitation and their needs during the transitional period between child and adult services. Multiple policy and practice recommendations were developed from the evidence review to improve the safeguarding and support of CSE-experienced young people.
The aim of this review was to provide qualitative evidence on safeguarding practice for young people and adults who have experienced child sexual exploitation, which could inform improved responses to those in need of support through key life transitions. The review looked at existing studies, academic articles and grey literature to answer the overall question:
“What does the literature say about safeguarding practice for young people and young adults (aged 16-25) who have experienced CSE before or during transition?”
Four sub-questions helped to guide this review:
- How is safeguarding from 16 years onwards organised and how is risk assessed in this age group?
- What do we know about continued need for services and support post 18 years amongst young people who have experienced CSE?
- Is the evidence clear about thresholds for action across universal, targeted and specialist services?
- What facilitates or constrains a successful transition for young people who have experienced CSE?
How we went about it
Academic searches across five databases were conducted to identify UK and international qualitative studies published from January 2000 onwards, in addition to searches on websites and grey literature. Articles were screened through a strict inclusion criteria. In total, the systematic review included 10 qualitative studies.
This systematic review drew 68 findings and 16 categories from ten studies. Findings and categories were then synthesised into the following six findings:
- Vulnerabilised identities
- Relationships and support
- Stigma and instability
- Mental health
- Relationships with services
- Housing and safe spaces
The review highlighted a number of policy and practice recommendations in light of the evidence reviewed. These included, but are not limited to:
- Increased recognition from services that CSE impacts young people beyond the age of 18 and can have detrimental effects on education, mental wellbeing, relationships, identity and access to opportunities
- A patient, realistic approach from professionals that recognises the impact trauma history has on the relationships service users build with them
- Jointly commission and deliver children’s and adults social care services, statutory and voluntary sector, to ensure the provision of continued support and services for young people who are in need of care and support post 18.
Given the limited international body of research on child sexual exploitation and transition, further research is needed to address these research gaps to strengthen the evidence base in this area.