You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

Safeguarding: Child Criminal Exploitation

Child Criminal Exploitation

Criminal exploitation 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.


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.

"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

Signs of a young person’s involvement in a gang 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.

One specific model of criminal exploitation, known as ‘county lines’ activity, involves the distribution of illegal drugs and money across the UK through dedicated mobile phone lines (often from cities to counties – hence the term county lines). Young people and sometimes vulnerable adults are often coerced, manipulated or frightened by gang members into moving or selling drugs on their behalf. Some gangs will even use the home of a vulnerable adult as a base from which to deal or hide drugs, this is known as ‘Cuckooing’.

Adults may also be vulnerable and at risk of exploitation by gangs if they:

  • Are elderly
  • Are single parents
  • Have learning difficulties
  • Have mental health problems
  • Are dependent on drugs or alcohol.

If you are concerned that a child may be at risk of harm because of gang activity, contact Children's Social Care or the Police.