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Extra Familial Harm/ Assessment of risk outside the home

What are extra familial harms?
Extra familial harms are harms that occur to children outside of their family, often during the adolescent years because at this age their social networks widen in a child’s community spaces and places.

Extra familial harms can include child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation, child-on-child abuse, gang affiliation, serious youth violence, trafficking and modern-day slavery, anti-social behaviours by and affecting peers, racialisation, and violent extremism.

What is child criminal exploitation?
Child criminal exploitation (CCE) takes a variety of forms but ultimately it is the grooming and exploitation of children into criminal activity. One specific model of CCE is known as “county lines”, where children are coerced, controlled, and manipulated into drug dealing. 


This model will use mobile phone “lines” and often different forms of social media in its criminal activities.


Recognising behavioural indicators of trauma

Recognising behavioural indicators of trauma is particularly important as the experience of trauma can make it difficult or impossible for young people to formulate a coherent account of what happened.

While no two individuals are the same, there is broad consensus that trauma responses can be categorised as avoidance (ie attempts to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations, places, or people that remind them of the trauma) and arousal (ie hypervigilance or tense or hostile behaviour).


Common trauma responses 

The following are examples of common trauma responses among young people affected by extra-familial harm:

‘Refusing’ behaviour (avoidance)

A young person might recognise, consciously or unconsciously, that they simply are not able to regulate their emotions in a particular environment. Perhaps their survival instincts have kicked in and their bodies are protecting them from feelings of overwhelm by staying away from situations or places where they are likely to feel unsafe.


Numbing, ‘checking out’ (dissociation)

Feeling numb, checking out or dissociating (the automatic response of disconnecting and detaching from an experience when feeling overwhelmed that some can experience) are necessary survival responses when people are unable to find ways to feel safe, calm and emotionally regulated.



‘On edge’ (hypervigilance)

Hypervigilance can seem like the polar opposite – in terms of observable body language – to the numb, ‘checked out’ response from a young person.

However, the kinds of hypervigilant behaviours you notice are also perhaps an indicator that a young person’s nervous system is activated; they are in fight or flight mode and sitting still and being calm isn’t a safe mode for their body to be in at that moment.


Inability to plan for the future (foreshortened future)

It can be frustrating when young people are at an age that requires them to be thinking and planning responsibly for the future and they seem unable to.

However, when a traumatised young person’s body is working so hard to try and ‘find calm’ – to emotionally regulate and to stay present in the moment – thinking about GCSEs, work placements, the impact of their behaviour or how a criminal record might follow them into the future may simply not be possible.

It does not mean that it will never be possible, but when they are in survival mode, we shouldn’t expect that they have the capacity to think about the future.


Traumatic bonding

The ‘trauma bond’ they might have developed with a person exploiting them is not just misplaced affection, but one way a young person might subconsciously be attempting to manage those feelings of overwhelm.

In an abusive, exploitative relationship, in which they are continually scared or unsure of what is going to happen and what they should believe, it can be an easier survival response to cultivate feelings of safety and connection with the abusive person when they are not yet sure if it is possible to get away.


Self-harm and self-destructive behaviours

Self-harming can be an attempt to feel something different than the young person feels at the moment. This might mean that they want to stop feeling distressed, dysregulated, numb or dissociative 


They might also feel a need to understand the limits and boundaries of their body. The latter experience might be particularly important for young people whose experiences of physical or sexual abuse mean that they don’t trust or understand their own body’s feelings and sensations very well.


Young people engaging in behaviours that seem risky and destructive might be trying, as best as they can, to stay in the present moment. For a young person who is experiencing flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or dissociation, doing something that is both exciting and dangerous might bring them back to the present and help to avoid them re-experiencing or thinking about past trauma.

It can also help them feel powerful when they often feel powerless. Some of these high-risk behaviours might also be attempts by young people to relive or recreate past trauma in the present as a way of trying to feel mastery or control over it.



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