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Safeguarding: Child Criminal Exploitation

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) involves organised criminal gangs taking advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a young person into criminal activity

a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or

b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator and/or

c) through violence or the threat of violence.

Children can be exploited by adult males or females, as individuals or in groups. They may also be exploited by other children, who themselves may be experiencing exploitation – where this is the case, it is important that the child perpetrator is also recognised as a victim.

Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, criminal exploitation can/may:

  • affect any young person under the age of 18 years
  • affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years
  • still be exploitation, even if the activity appears to consensual
  • involve force, enticement or blackmail
  • be accompanied by threats of violence or actual violence
  • be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, other children or adults
  • involve a power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation.

Whilst the age of the child may be a contributing factor for an imbalance of power, there are a range of other factors that could make a child more vulnerable to exploitation, including, sexual identity, cognitive ability, learning difficulties, communication ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

Signs of a young person’s involvement in CCE may include:

  • changes in behaviour
  • frequently missing from care, home or education
  • unexplained money, gifts or new possessions
  • unexplained injuries
  • graffiti-style tags on possessions
  • carrying weapons
  • interest in music which glorifies weapons and gang culture
  • getting involved in fights
  • committing crimes, such as shoplifting.

Adults may also be vulnerable and at risk of exploitation by gangs if they are elderly, are single parents, have learning difficulties or mental health problems or are dependent on drugs or alcohol.

"Children can be exploited to 'work' in cannabis factories, for the purposes of pickpocketing, to distribute drugs, committing theft or burglary, or to assist financial fraud.  Any child who is forced to commit any type of crime is a victim of criminal exploitation."

The Children's Society - Counting Lives 2019

County Lines

County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. This activity can happen locally as well as across the UK - no specified distance of travel is required.  Children and vulnerable adults are exploited to move, store and sell drugs and money. Offenders will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons to ensure compliance of victims.

Children can be targeted and recruited into county lines in a number of locations  including schools (mainstream and special), further and higher educational institutions, pupil referral units, children’s homes and care homes. Children are also increasingly being targeted and recruited online using social media. Children can easily become trapped by this type of exploitation as county lines gangs can manufacture drug debts which need to be worked off or threaten serious violence and kidnap towards victims (and their families) if they attempt to leave the county lines network.

In addition to the concerns above, specific indicators which may be present where a child is criminally exploited through involvement in county lines are children who:

  • go missing and are subsequently found in areas away from their home
  • have been the victim or perpetrator of serious violence (e.g. knife crime)
  • are involved in receiving requests for drugs via a phone line, moving drugs, handing over and collecting money for drugs
  • are exposed to techniques such as ‘plugging’, where drugs are concealed internally to avoid detection
  • are found in accommodation that they have no connection with, often called a ‘trap house or cuckooing’ or hotel room where there is drug activity
  • owe a ‘debt bond’ to their exploiters
  • have their bank accounts used to facilitate drug dealing.

Further information on the signs of a child’s involvement in county lines is available in guidance published by the Home Office and The Children’s Society 'County Lines Toolkit For Professionals'.

If you are concerned that a child may be at risk of harm because of CCE and/or County Lines activity, contact Integrated Children's Services or the Police.

Serious Violence

All staff should be aware of the indicators, which may signal children are at risk from, or are involved with serious violent crime. This may include:

  • increased absence from school
  • a change in friendships or relationships with older individuals or groups
  • a significant decline in performance
  • signs of self-harm or a significant change in wellbeing, or signs of assault or unexplained injuries
  • Unexplained gifts or new possessions could also indicate that children have been approached by, or are involved with, individuals associated with criminal networks or gangs and may be at risk of criminal exploitation

All staff should be aware of the range of risk factors which increase the likelihood of involvement in serious violence, such as being male, having been frequently absent or permanently excluded from school, having experienced child maltreatment and having been involved in offending, such as theft or robbery.

Modern Slavery and the National Referral Mechanism

Modern slavery encompasses human trafficking and slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Exploitation can take many forms, including: sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, servitude, forced criminality and the removal of organs.

Further information on the signs that someone may be a victim of modern slavery, the support available to victims and how to refer them to the NRM is available in the 'Modern Slavery Statutory Guidance. Modern slavery: how to identify and support victims'.

Useful Links

Resources for children and young people