New definition and advice on CSE

Today sees the release of the new government advice on CSE.

The DfE document is adapted from an extended advice for practice document written by the University of Bedfordshire and Research in Practice, under commission from the Department for Education. The full text of our extended version, whose length allows for exploration of some of the more nuanced challenges of responding to CSE, can be viewed here – with thanks to DfE for their consent to publish this extended version.

Between them, the DfE document and the UOB/RiP document respond to the varying requests from practice for (a) a short essential info document around what CSE is and what is expected in response and (b) an advanced exploration of some of the complexities of responding to CSE in practice.

In writing the document we drew on a widespread review of the existing evidence base, seeking to identify issues that have proved challenging to address in practice and to draw out lessons learnt in relation to this. The aim was never to provide a ‘step-by-step’ approach to addressing CSE, but rather to provide a framework for building a locally informed response that is evidence-informed, and creates space for the exercise of professional curiosity and professional judgment within this.

Some of the more complex issues explored within our extended document include:

  • Interpreting the definition in practice (see pages 7-10 of our text)
  • Moving beyond a focus on vulnerability to consider the inter-connected conditions for abuse (pages 11-13)
  • The importance of context and the need to understand ‘constrained choice’ (pages 17-18)
  • The challenges of current risk assessment processes (pages 26-27)
  • Principles for working with children and young people affected by CSE (pages 30-34)

Of course there are no easy answers to these issues. And indeed, wider questions remain as to how we could more helpfully conceptualise the forms of harm we currently label as CSE or CSA and the implications this has for identification and response. Whilst this was beyond our remit within this practice guidance (which was commissioned to align with the new government definition) we consider these bigger questions in a forthcoming chapter in a new edited collection from the IC.

We are incredibly grateful for the extensive stakeholder feedback that we received on this document. In our view, the inter-disciplinary nature of the feedback has enhanced the relevance of the document – a lesson that equally applies in practice in terms of enhancing our understanding of, and response, to this issue. Similarly, the involvement of young people in sense-checking our messages and bringing these alive with reference to real life experiences has been invaluable, as we know it is in practice when making decisions about their lives.

We were delighted to partner with Research in Practice on this document and to avail of their extensive understanding of the practice environment in considering the application of learning within this. We are also incredibly grateful to Prof Julia Davidson for her input around the relevance of our messaging for online abuse.

We are not so naïve as to think that the production of this document is what brings about change – we know it is the passion and commitment of the sector that brings this about – but we do hope that our document and the messages within it prove to be a useful tool for you in this endeavour. Both the IC and RiP are committed to this issue in the long term, so please do send us your feedback on the text ( and look out for future publications and events around these themes.