Care services in Scotland ‘generally working well’ to protect children from sexual abuse

Care services across Scotland are generally working well to protect children from the risks of sexual exploitation, according to inspectors.

The Care Inspectorate has today published a report on a focused scrutiny programme which looked at how well care services are preventing and responding effectively to child sexual exploitation.

Inspectors found that, overall, care staff were generally well informed about the risks of exploitation and understood their roles and responsibilities in promoting young people’s wellbeing, but identified a number of areas for improvement. The findings come from over 330 inspections of residential care, boarding school accommodation, residential special schools, secure care, fostering agencies, and adoption services.

Karen Reid, chief executive of the Care Inspectorate said: “Fortunately, most young people in Scotland are supported to have a strong sense of self and identify, and grow up free from harm, neglect or abuse. However, a small number of children do not experience that level of support and some are exposed to child sexual exploitation. Care services and their staff can play a key role in preventing abuse. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that Scotland is the best place for children to grow up, so there is no room for complacency.

“The Care Inspectorate works with other bodies to make sure that education, social services and police are working well together to protect children from harm, and we inspect every care service for children and young people in Scotland regularly. This report presents the findings from our scrutiny of care services for children and young people carried out between 2015 and 2017.

“We found examples of effective practice designed to ensure children and young people are not exposed to sexual exploitation, and to support children who require it to become emotionally resilient and address experiences of trauma or neglect. Overall, staff were well-informed about the risks of exploitation, but in some care services we have identified the need for a wider range of staff to be confident in their responsibilities.”

The 330 inspections found a number of key strengths. There was a high level of awareness about the risks of child sexual exploitation, with robust policies and procedures in place. Where care providers had been proactive in providing learning and development opportunities for their staff to raise awareness, this was having a positive impact in the experiences of young people.

Where children were identified as at risk of, or had been subjected to child sexual exploitation in the past, inspectors found the majority of care plans contained effectively-implemented strategies to help young people to be safe.

High quality care and support was often associated with effective inter-agency working, collaborative arrangements across a wide range of partners, and confident staff who could exercise their responsibilities at the right time.

The report also identified some further areas for improvement.

In some care services, inspectors identified the need for a wider range of staff to be confident in understanding the risks of child sexual exploitation, and ensuring that effective risk assessment frameworks and risk management plans are in place, with the right links between social workers, care settings, schools and, if necessary, the police.


The Care Inspectorate undertook two distinct pieces of work, linked to the prevention of abuse and the support of children and young people affected or at risk of child sexual exploitation. This work was undertaken during inspections carried out between April 2016 and March 2017.

The first stage was designed to gather evidence about what work had been undertaken in services to support staff understanding of child sexual exploitation and to ensure children and young people were supported and protected from the risks. Inspectors analysed the information from self-evaluation of policies and practices submitted by services as a part of their annual return for 2015. A total of 405 care services completed the annual return information in relation to child sexual exploitation.

The second stage of involved the validation of the self-assessment information which was gathered during the inspection year April 2016 to March 2017. Inspectors explored staff understanding of child sexual exploitation across 332 services, and evaluated how well services were supporting and protecting children and young people from risks.

The specific evaluation of child sexual exploitation awareness, training and practice was made at every inspection. During these inspections, the Care Inspectorate made 65 recommendations linked to child sexual exploitation across 64 (19%) services. In addition, five requirements linked to child sexual exploitation were made across four services (1%).

The report is available here: