Skip navigation
EIF report

Building trusted relationships for vulnerable children and young people with public services

Reviews of the child protection system have suggested that children who experience abuse lack a designated adult outside of the family system who is able to provide consistent support – or a ‘trusted relationship’. EIF was commissioned to provide a rapid overview of the evidence on which features of trusted relationships are critical to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and young people, and to provide policy advice on how more of these relationships could be enabled in public services.

Full report


Summary of qualitative research



The focus of this review was on early intervention with children and young people who are vulnerable to either child sexual exploitation (CSE) or child sexual abuse (CSA).

EIF’s research included a rapid strategic evidence overview; consultation with practitioners and leaders from services working with children and young people; and testing and refining of our conclusions and recommendations with key stakeholders, including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Local Government Association, NSPCC, Office of the Children’s Commissioner and others.

It is important to note that the evaluation evidence considered as part of this review has not been formally assessed against the EIF standards of evidence. The approach used here was designed to fit the short timescale of the review and so is based on initial assessments of the evaluation evidence only.


  • There is a strong logic for thinking that trusted relationships between a practitioner and a child can protect vulnerable young people from CSE or CSA, but as yet no evidence to support this.
  • There is a lack of high-quality research evidence on the risk and protective factors for becoming a victim of CSE or CSA.
  • There is broad consensus between research and practice on the features which allow trusted practitioner–child relationships to develop.
  • The ability of public services to build trusted relationships with vulnerable children and young people appears to be influenced by the characteristics of the child or young person, the practitioner and the organisational context.
  • There is good evidence for the effectiveness of high-quality mentoring approaches.

Conclusions and recommendations

EIF’s research is intended to inform Home Office policy aimed at increasing trusted practitioner–child relationships available to vulnerable children.

The issue of how to enable a greater emphasis on trusted relationships in public services is complex, given the range of interdependent factors, rather than merely technically complicated. This means that interventions which focus on single factors are unlikely to address the system relationships and interdependencies, and therefore are unlikely to lead to sustainable change.

We conclude that Home Office policy on trusted relationships should take a systems-focused approach, and should strengthen existing capacity and infrastructure rather than introducing new interventions with time-limited funding.

This systems approach should focus on:

  • growing system capability for trusted relationships at the national and local level
  • supporting the development of consistent, high-quality mentoring for vulnerable young people
  • enabling effective implementation and evaluation, focusing on workforce behaviour and organisational culture on relational practice, and measurement that adds to the UK evidence-base.

About the author

Ben Lewing

Ben is assistant director, policy & practice, at EIF.