Child Criminal Exploitation


The Protection of Children Standard


The guidance in this chapter is taken from Government and local guidance documents as listed below.


Home Office guidance on County Lines


  1. Introduction to Child Criminal Exploitation and County Lines
  2. Vulnerable Children / Young People
  3. Indicators of Children / Young People at Risk
  4. Signs of Active Exploitation
  5. Referring Cases of Concern
  6. Supporting Children / Young People out of CCE
  7. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators

1. Introduction to Child Criminal Exploitation and County Lines

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) is where an individual or group uses their position of power to take advantage of a child / young person under the age of 18, the individual or group coerces, controls, manipulates or deceives the child / young person into criminal activity.

This could be:

  • In exchange for something the victim needs / wants e.g. money, clothes, mobile phone;
  • For the financial gain / other advantage of the perpetrator / facilitator;
  • Through violence / the threat of violence.

CCE involves vulnerable children / young people being exposed to, and/or being a victim of:

  • Physical and emotional violence;
  • Neglect;
  • Going missing;
  • Sexual abuse;
  • Sexual grooming and exploitation (Child Sexual Exploitation);
  • Modern day slavery;
  • Human trafficking;
  • Domestic abuse.

Even if the activity appears to be consensual, the victim may have been criminally exploited and as with Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) the victim may not be aware they have been exploited. CCE does not always involve physical contact, it can also happen through use of technology. This could include:

  • Making contact through social media;
  • Posting videos on YouTube that glorify gang violence, drug taking and knife crime;
  • Using and making music videos to make threats to other young people.

County Lines is a term used to describe the involvement of organised criminal networks and street gangs in moving illegal drugs from cities to other parts of the UK. In Norfolk and Kent the originating city is usually London.

Much of the activity / ‘business’ is conducted over a dedicated mobile phone line. Criminal networks involved in County Lines frequently exploit children /young people / vulnerable adults to move and store drugs/money/weapons. The child / young person / vulnerable adult’s compliance is frequently reinforced through coercion, intimidation and violence, including the use of sexual violence and weapons.

In Norfolk, there is growing concern about CCE and specifically the links to ‘County Lines’.

2. Vulnerable Children / Young People

Some children / young people are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Certain situations and experiences can make children /young people more vulnerable to criminal exploitation, including:

  • Living in a household where there has been neglect and/or abuse;
  • Witnessing or being involved in domestic abuse / violence in relationships;
  • Having parents / carers who experience substance misuse and/or who have mental health issues;
  • High levels of poverty in the family home and immediate environment;
  • A lack of positive relationships and role models;
  • Homelessness;
  • Living in care / leaving care;
  • Having learning disabilities and specific needs;
  • Having mental health problems;
  • Substance misuse;
  • Not having or attending education/training/employment;
  • Involved in anti-social/offending behaviour and/or having contact with peers who are being exploited or are involved in offending behaviour;
  • Association with gangs either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships;
  • Exposure to/experience of, violent crime.

3. Indicators of Children / Young People at Risk

Children /young people who have been criminally or sexually exploited or who are vulnerable to exploitation may exhibit these signs and behaviours:

  • Frequently going missing - sometimes overnight but also unexplained absences during the day;
  • Being found out of their home area;
  • Having cash, mobile phones, clothing, underwear, sexual items, jewellery, new haircuts or other items and gifts. Parents/carers do not know how the child / young person got them and the child / young person cannot explain where they came from or who gave them to them;
  • Increased use of taxis as a mode of transport;
  • Unexpected and/or concerning changes in behaviour for example becoming secretive, withdrawn, isolated; not mixing with or talking about their usual friends; changing friendship groups; having or talking about new friends;
  • Not attending or enjoying school, college, training or employment;
  • Becoming disruptive, hostile or physically aggressive at home or school, including the use of sexualised language and language related to drug dealing and/or violence;
  • Acting or talking as though they are invincible or not caring about what happens to them;
  • Anxiety;
  • Unusual or different use of social media;
  • Increased interest in making money.

4. Signs of Active Exploitation

These signs and behaviours are indicators of children /young people who are already being exploited:

  • Being arrested out of area - especially for drug related offences;
  • Found with large quantities of drugs or weapons;
  • Returned from missing episodes with injuries, or dishevelled appearance/ looking unwell;
  • Reports of being taken to parties, people’s houses, unknown areas, hotels, nightclubs, takeaways or out of area by unknown adults or taken to make music videos;
  • Increasing use of drugs or alcohol;
  • Fear of reprisal or violence from young people or adults;
  • Pregnancy and frequent sexually transmitted infections (STIs);
  • Excessive receipt of texts/phone calls and/or having multiple handsets;
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional wellbeing.

5. Referring Cases of Concern

Where the home becomes concerned that a child / young person is involved in, or at risk of, child criminal exploitation, this will be discussed with the child / young person’s social worker. If it is decided that action needs to be taken to protect the child Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures should be triggered, including making a referral to Children’s Social Care in which the home is located and to the local Police.

In the case of suspected Child Criminal Exploitation, Ofsted, the Placing Authority and Police must be informed (see also Notifications of Serious Events Procedure).

6. Supporting Children / Young People out of CCE

Statutory agencies and voluntary sector organisations together with the child / young person, and their family as appropriate, should agree on the services and support which should be provided to them and how they will be coordinated. The types of intervention offered should be appropriate to the child / young person’s individual needs and should take full account of identified risk factors and their individual circumstances. Your local Youth Offending Team may be able to advise and assist where you suspect child criminal exploitation and/or the child’s case may already be open to them.

Advice should be sought from the nearest specialist service which works with children and young people involved in Child Criminal Exploitation. A referral should be made as appropriate, following consultation with the child / young person.

Issues raised and action planned should be incorporated into the child’s Care Plan and Placement Plan, and reviewed as part of the Looked After Child Review.

Because the effects of Child Criminal Exploitation can last well into adulthood, support may be required over a long period of time. In such circumstances, effective links should be made between Children’s and Adult’s Services and statutory and voluntary organisations.

This should be incorporated into the young person’s Pathway Plan as appropriate.

7. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators

The Police and Criminal Justice Agencies lead on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators. All practitioners, however, have a role in gathering, recording and sharing information with the Police and other agencies, as appropriate and in agreement with them.

The Registered Manager and senior staff should proactively liaise with local Police regarding Child Criminal Exploitation. This should include the Police giving advice to staff about what action they should take if they are concerned a child in their care is at risk of or is being criminally exploited. This may include gathering information to pass onto the Police, such as vehicle registration numbers, names, physical descriptions etc. It may also include what action staff should take in the case of suspected child criminal exploitation in order to protect potential evidence, which may be useful in the case of an alleged perpetrator being prosecuted.

The children / young people cared for within our homes are at serious risk of physical and sometimes sexual harm when they are the victims of child criminal exploitation and their safeguarding must be a priority for the staff who look after them. This can only be achieved through multi-agency working with the Police, Children’s Services and the Youth Offending Team.