Background: Children in state care are one of the most vulnerable group of young people for sexual exploitation in today’s society, with those in residential care being particularly vulnerable. The links between being in residential care and sexual exploitation are well recognised but are not well understood. Objective: This exploratory qualitative case study aimed to reflect the perspective of residential social care workers in Northern Ireland regarding the challenge of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in residential care and to identify strategies to protect these children. Participants and Setting: Six semi-structured interviews were conducted with residential social care workers, audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Methods: Data was analysed using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six-step methodology for reflexive thematic analysis. Results: Six themes were identified: (i) risk; (ii) reasons to engage / agency; (iii) vulnerability; (iv) identifying child sexual exploitation; (v) responding to child sexual exploitation; (vi) the residential social care workers experience. Conclusion: The findings indicate that sexual exploitation is a common concern amongst residential social care workers in Northern Ireland but that they often feel unable to successfully intervene. Further, current safeguarding procedures may require significant revision as a result of the internet generally and social media in particular increasing predatory access to children in residential care. The study highlights an urgent need for easier access to psychological support for children in residential care, outreach support services, and more clinical psychological input for residential social care workers. Purposely assembled support teams for children in residential care may be necessary.
- Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE); residential care; residential social care worker; psychological support