This chapter replaced the one previously entitled "Gang Activity, Youth Violence and Criminal Exploitation Affecting Children" in February 2022 and should be re-read.
This chapter was updated in July 2023 to add information on the Serious Violence Duty and the extension of the duty to cooperate for the purposes of MAPPA under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.
- County Lines
- Who is at Risk?
- Signs and Indicators
- What to do if you are concerned about CCE
- Agency Responses
- Working with Children and Parents
- Further Information
The Home Office defines Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) as:
Child Criminal Exploitation…occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual.
Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. Criminal exploitation often happens alongside sexual or other forms of exploitation.
Child Criminal exploitation is broader than just county lines and includes for instance children forced to work on cannabis farms, to commit theft, shoplift or pickpocket, or to threaten other young people.
Currently there is no statutory definition for Child Criminal Exploitation. However, it is covered within the Modern Slavery Act 2015 which sets out the offences of slavery, servitude and forced and compulsory labour in section 1, and human trafficking in section 2. Potential victims can be exploited in a number of ways, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude and criminal exploitation. Children may be forced to work in cannabis factories, move drugs, money or weapons across county lines or within their locality, launder money through their bank accounts or carry out crimes of theft or violence, particularly against other young people.
See: Children from Abroad, including Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation Procedure for details of the National Referral Mechanism, which is the framework for identifying and supporting victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Defining a gang is difficult. They tend to fall into three categories; Peer Groups, Street Gangs and Organised Crime Groups. It can be common for groups of children to gather together in public places to socialise. Although some Peer group gatherings can lead to increased antisocial behaviour and youth offending, these activities should not be confused with the serious violence of a street gang.
A street gang can be described as a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of children who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identity.
A street gang will engage in criminal activity and violence and may lay claim over territory (not necessarily geographical but it can include an illegal economy territory). They have some form of identifying structure featuring a hierarchy usually based on age, physical strength, propensity to violence or older sibling rank. There may be certain rites involving antisocial or criminal behaviour or sex acts to become part of the gang. They are in conflict with other similar gangs.
An organised criminal group is a group of individuals normally led by adults for whom involvement in crime is for personal gain (financial or otherwise). This involves serious and organised criminality by a hard core of violent gang members who exploit vulnerable children and adults. This may also involve the movement and selling of drugs and money across the country, known as 'county lines' because it extends across county boundaries and is coordinated by the use of dedicated mobile phone lines. It is a tactic used by groups or gangs to facilitate the selling of drugs in an area outside of the area in which they live, often coordinated by mobile phone and reducing their risk of detection.
Selling drugs across county lines often involves the criminal exploitation of children. Child criminal exploitation, like other forms of abuse and exploitation, is a safeguarding concern and constitutes abuse even if the child appears to have readily become involved. Child criminal exploitation is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation and usually involves some form of exchange (e.g. carrying drugs in return for something). The exchange can include both tangible (such as money, drugs or clothes) and intangible rewards (such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection). Children who are criminally exploited are at a high risk of experiencing violence and intimidation and threats to family members may also be made. Gangs may also target vulnerable adults and take over their premises to distribute Class A drugs in a practice referred to as 'cuckooing'.
White British children are often targeted because gangs perceive they are more likely to evade police detection and some children may be as young as 12years old, although 15 to 16 years old is the most common age range. The children involved may not recognise themselves as victims of any abuse and can be used to recruit other children and vulnerable adults.
It is important to remember the unequal power dynamic within which this exchange occurs and to remember that the receipt of something by a child or vulnerable adult does not make them any less of a victim.
If a child is arrested for drugs offences a long way from home in an area where they have no local connections and no obvious means of getting home, this should trigger questions about their welfare and they should potentially be considered as victims of child criminal exploitation and trafficking rather than as an offender. Agencies also need to be proactive and make contact with statutory services in the child's home area to share information.
Where there are concerns that children are victims of child criminal exploitation they should be referred to the National Referral Mechanism.
Children may be at risk of sexual exploitation in these groups.
There is a distinction between organised crime groups and street gangs based on the level of criminality, organisation, planning and control, however, there are significant links between different levels of gangs. Activity can include street gang's involvement in drug dealing on behalf of organised criminal groups and the sexual abuse of girls by organised criminal groups.
Children may be involved in more than one 'gang', with some cross-border movement, and may not stay in a 'gang' for significant periods of time. Children rarely use the term 'gang', instead they used terms such as 'family', 'breddrin', 'crews', 'cuz' (cousins), 'my boys' or simply 'the people I grew up with'.
An important feature of gang involvement is that, the more heavily a child is involved with a gang, the less likely they are to talk about it.
Safeguarding should focus both on children who are vulnerable or making the transition to gang involvement as well as those already involved in gangs. Practitioners should be aware of particular risks to children involved in gangs from violence and weapons to drugs and sexual exploitation.
3. County Lines
County lines is a form of Child Criminal Exploitation. It is a term used to describe the activities of gangs and organised criminal networks who are involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas (within the UK), using dedicated mobile phone lines or other forms of "deal line". These gangs are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move (and store) the drugs and money, and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons (County lines: criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, Home Office 2018).
The adults running these networks remain at a distance from the frontline activity of drug dealing, reducing the risk of being caught and instead - they exploit vulnerable children who are at high risk of significant harm transporting and selling drugs, often many miles from home. Some children are forced to carry the drugs in harmful ways that are abusive and could result in their death. For example, 'plugging' is commonly used, which is when children can be forced to insert and carry drugs in their rectum or vagina.
Children may be sent to another area of the country to live with a vulnerable adult whose home has been taken over by the gang in exchange for a continued supply of drugs. This is known as 'cuckooing'. These environments are extremely dangerous for children who face the risk of violence from their exploiters and / or the drug users who have been cuckooed, as well as from an unsafe physical environment featuring toxic substances and used needles. Other dealers in the area may also target these children to prevent them taking over their 'patch' - exposing them to the risk of more violence.
County lines activity is dynamic, and perpetrators will change their methods of exploitation quickly. As professionals become more responsive to identifying children at risk, criminals adapt their tactics. This may be by targeting new groups of children to exploit to avoid detection or recruiting children within the local area and hence avoid the risk of them being identified when travelling. As a result a child who is exploited can leave their home or care placement in the morning, sell drugs and return the same day and so avoid being reported missing.
There are high levels of violence and intimidation linked to county lines activity. Children can be very quickly groomed into criminal activity, often before parents or professionals realise what is happening.
Initially they may be trusted with small activities or 'minor' tasks that may seem inconsequential to the child but which lead to a rapid escalation in demand and risk. Although the risk to the child is already present, at this point they are often unaware and may begin to believe that they have the trust and respect of their 'elders'.
One of the tactics that may be used by perpetrators involves staging a fake robbery where the drugs and money concealed on the child are stolen by their own gang. In these cases, the child believes they have lost money, drugs or phone contacts that are valuable to those running the county lines, and that they must work for free to repay the debt. Perpetrators might also threaten the safety of their family or parents, or their homes.
It is important to remember the unequal power dynamic within which this exchange occurs, and to remember that the receipt of something (e.g. money, drugs, 'status') by a child or vulnerable adult does not make them any less of a victim. It is also important to note that the prevention of something negative can also fulfil the requirement for exchange, for example a child who engages in county lines activity to prevent someone carrying out a threat to harm their family.
All criminally exploited children are at risk of neglect, emotional harm, sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as substance misuse and extreme forms of violence. Sexual violence can be used as a form of punishment.
Younger siblings may be recruited through fear, violence and intimidation against the family of older children who have already been exploited.
The trauma caused by intimidation, violence, witnessing drug use or overdoses and continued threats to themselves or to family members can lead to significant mental and physical ill-health of exploited children.
4. Who is at Risk?
Professionals should be aware of their own unconscious bias as any child could be at risk of criminal exploitation.
Any child may be at risk of criminal exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances. For some, their homes will be a place of safety and security; for others this will not be the case. Whatever the child's home circumstances, the risks from exploitation spread beyond risks to the child. Their families or siblings may also be threatened or be highly vulnerable to violence from the perpetrators of criminal exploitation.
A child who is affected by gang activity, criminal exploitation or serious youth violence can be at risk of significant harm through physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Girls may be particularly at risk of sexual exploitation.
Gang members often groom girls at school using drugs and alcohol, which act as disinhibitors and create dependency, and encourage / coerce them to recruit other girls through school / social networks.
There are incidences of rape of girls who are involved with gangs. There are reports of gang members passing their girlfriends to lower ranked members to be sexually abused.
Very few rapes are reported to the police due to fear.
Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, county lines exploitation:
- Can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years;
- Can affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years;
- Can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual;
- Can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
- Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults; and
- Is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.
Perpetrators are known to target vulnerable children and adults; some of the factors that heighten a person's vulnerability includes:
- Having prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse;
- Lack of a safe/stable home environment, now or in the past (domestic violence or parental substance misuse, mental health issues or criminality, for example);
- Social isolation or social difficulties;
- Economic vulnerability;
- Homelessness or insecure accommodation status;
- Connections with other people involved in gangs;
- Having a physical disability or learning disability;
- Having mental health or substance misuse issues;
- Being in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories);
- Being excluded from mainstream education, in particular attending a Pupil Referral Unit. It is important when schools are considering exclusions they also consider the safeguarding risks to the child.
It is thought that 14-17 years is the most common age for children to be exploited but there are reports of children below the age of 11 years being targeted.
Male children are most commonly identified as being criminally exploited, but female children are also used and exploited. It may be that female children are identified by agencies for other reasons other than criminal exploitation but are also being criminally exploited.
5. Signs and Indicators
Some potential indicators of county lines involvement and exploitation are listed below, with those at the top of particular concern:
- Persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out-of-area;
- Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones;
- Excessive receipt of texts / phone calls and/or having multiple handsets;
- Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups;
- Leaving home / care without explanation;
- Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries;
- Parental concerns;
- Carrying weapons;
- Significant decline in school results / performance;
- Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks;
- Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being.
6. What to do if you are concerned about CCE
When there are immediate concerns for a child's safety this should be reported to the police.
Once professionals are clear the concerns they hold could relate to CCE (refer to the indicators above), they can complete the Multi Agency Youth Violence and Child Criminal Exploitation Risk Assessment and submit to MASH (County) and Children and Families Direct (City) under the heading 'CCE Risk Assessment' and continue supporting the child and family according to their professional involvement. Any new or additional information should be logged and passed on as part of the referral.
Depending on the level of risk, professionals will be invited to a multi-agency meeting to consider how best to protect and support the child and family, this will result in a safety plan and will reviewed regularly.
See links below to Children's Social Care processes related to CCE.
Sharing intelligence and information is crucial when developing multi- agency approaches to preventing criminal exploitation. It is only by sharing data that agencies can develop an understanding of the prevalence, nature and scale of criminal exploitation and county lines activity. This work should be carried out as for sexual exploitation and children who go missing, and seek to identify, children who are vulnerable, locations of interest and potential perpetrators. An early, coordinated response to any child who has been criminally or sexually exploited is really important for the child, and other children linked to them.
Effective early information sharing and intelligence gathering can:
- Help build a profile of children that may be most at risk identify and support a child's needs at the earliest opportunity;
- Reduce the duration of harm and prevent escalation to more serious abuse;
- Help identify and understand links between different forms of exploitation and hidden, or related, crimes;
- Identify locations being used for the purposes of exploitation;
- Identify networks or individuals who pose a risk to children;
- Provide evidence in applications to the court for civil and criminal orders;
- Enable quicker risk assessment of a potential victim of trafficking and development of an effective safety plan.
The Home Office has published guidance for safeguarding agencies in the Child exploitation disruption toolkit (The Home Office). The toolkit is primarily aimed at frontline staff, including law enforcement, social care, education, housing and the voluntary sector, working to safeguard children from sexual and criminal exploitation. Additionally, it is intended to help all safeguarding partners to understand and access existing legislative opportunities at their disposal and to target specific risks and threats.
Mapping – linking individuals, places and professionals
Understanding the dynamics of peer groups is essential to developing safeguarding approaches that recognise and understand the contexts in which children experience exploitation and harm beyond the home.
Peer group mapping, when undertaken through multi-disciplinary safeguarding or risk management meetings:
- Provide opportunities for practitioners to understand the relationships between children and the dynamics of those groups;
- Identify the roles and relationships between individuals, including the amount of influence and control individuals have within a network;
- Give an understanding of the nature, scale and seriousness of the vulnerabilities posed by/to identified peer groups, individuals and locations;
- Supports the identification of effective safeguarding interventions and other suitable multi-agency disruption and diversion opportunities;
- Focuses awareness on information gaps.
Further information on peer group assessment and mapping has been developed by the Contextual Safeguarding Network.
Ensure your staff are trained to recognise the signs and indicators of Child Criminal Exploitation.
Multi agency training can be accessed through Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire Safeguarding Partnerships.
7. Agency Responses
If a practitioner identifies that a child is involved in, or at risk of involvement in CCE they should respond following their individual agency's Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures, alongside any specific local guidance for identifying and responding to CCE.
While Nottinghamshire police does not have a dedicated CCE team they are fully committed to keeping children safe and reducing the opportunity for them to be exploited. Over the past year, more resources have been deployed by both the Police and Partnership agencies into child criminal exploitation including sexual exploitation, county lines and gangs. This increased focus is managed by processes including multi-agency panels for CCE (child criminal exploitation), MASE (sexual exploitation) and SERAC (modern slavery). The Police have recruited two CCE officers who can coordinate partnership responses through a variety of forums including the CCE panels. Enhanced focus will no doubt identify more criminality and create increased demand.
There will be a city and county CCE co-ordinator and in short they will be the SPOC (Single point of contact) for CCE matters and their primary role will be to attend CCE multi agency meetings for young people at risk on behalf of Police. If there is a OIC (officer in charge) for an Investigation they will also be expected to attend. This should improve the CCE meeting attendance and further improve information sharing between partners and Police.
They will be managed by Insp Paul Harris but will sit in the respective MASH's (City/ County) once initial training is completed. All CCE strategy meeting invites should come into the MASH so they will be able to triage these as SPOC and improve attendance.
They will also attend SYVCCEP (Serious Youth Violence and Child Criminal Exploitation Panel) which on the county is also attended by the area Neighbourhood Policing Inspectors, some of whom also report in on separate neighbourhood safeguarding and disruption meetings (NSDs) which is a police led multi agency approach to managing those children at risk of serious violence or CCE on their area. The Police hope to expand the NSD approach to the city shortly. The CCE co-ordinators will complete the intelligence research prior to the CCEP's and deliver the updates for the respective area which can then be shared wider with partners as appropriate.
Police teams that may be involved in CCE include School Early Intervention Officers (SEIO), County Lines Team, Neighbourhood Policing Teams, Organised Crime Groups team, Integrated Offender Management team.
The Police are able to employ CAWNs Child Abduction Warning Notices, OSMAN Warnings, Gang Injunction - Serious Crime Act 2015; Dispersal Orders; Modern Slavery S45 and they will complete NRMs (National Referral Mechanism).
Health professionals across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire are ideally placed to recognise and respond to signs of CCE.
Universal services such as GPs, practice nurses and school nurses, as well as specialist services for example sexual health, paediatric, child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) or substance misuse services have an important role to play. Health professionals may hold significant information about a child's needs and vulnerabilities which can inform risk assessments and support planning.
Hospital Emergency departments and NHS urgent care settings also play an important role in identifying and referring cases to the police and LA and signposting to support services where youth violence and exploitation is suspected.
Children's Social Care
Both Local Authorities have detailed Procedures, Processes and Risk Assessments.
While immediate safeguarding concerns should be reported to the Police, other concerns regarding children at risk of Youth Violence and/or Child Criminal Exploitation should be referred to MASH in the County and Children and Families Direct in the City.
Both local authorities CCE Risk Assessments to consider the level of risk posed to children. In both local authorities, those children identified at high risk of youth violence and/or child criminal exploitation will be considered at Multi Agency meetings chaired by an Independent Chair. In the County, those children deemed at Moderate risk will be considered at a Team Manager led multi agency meeting. Those children identified at Emerging risk are sign posted to support services as appropriate.
These multi agency meetings will share information and develop safety and disruption plans that will be reviewed regularly.
The children considered at highest risk of SYVCCE are considered at the monthly Panels, Serious Youth Violence and Child Criminal Violence Panel in the County and the Child Criminal Exploitation Panel in the City, where partner agencies provide strategic oversight of the work undertaken.
For further information in the City, please see: Inter-agency Procedures and Practice Guidance - Nottingham City Council.
Youth Justice Service (YJS)
Children can be put at risk of criminal exploitation through participation in, and as victims of, offending behaviour. Victims and offenders are often the same people. When practitioners treat a young person as just a victim or just an offender, they are not taking into account the complex, cyclical nature of the victim-offender link and the factors that influence children's lives. While in some cases a justice response will be required, many of these children will need support to break ties with their exploiters and process what may have been extremely traumatic experiences.
The YJS supervises those referred by the Court or Police on a statutory or pre-Court basis, or, where non-statutory Youth Justice preventative services are available, those that have been referred to early intervention services on a voluntary basis.
The purpose of the YJS is to prevent offending and reduce re-offending by children aged 10-17. YJS's key activities involve:
- Assessing the likelihood of re-offending, the risk of causing harm, and the level of safety and wellbeing concerns posed by children;
- Planning and managing interventions to reduce these risks;
- Strengthening protective factors to promote desistance;
- Ensuring that children completing YJS interventions have access to the full range of services to help their life chances, providing evidence-based interventions directly or by commissioning services to address needs;
- Ensuring that interventions with children take account of and understand the needs of victims and communities affected by their offending.
Youth Justice Prevention Services
The Exploitation and Violence Reduction (EVR) Hub in Nottingham City are part of the Youth Justice Service and aim to support young people who are vulnerable and deemed to be at risk of anti-social /offending behaviour, serious youth violence and child criminal exploitation. In the County referrals may be made for support by referring to the My Future youth support programme which is operated by Nottinghamshire YJS.
All Public Protection Notices sent to Nottingham City Social Care are screened for indicators that children may potentially be involved in child criminal exploitation, to ensure that the necessary intelligence sharing and information gathering processes inform all safeguarding referrals, decisions and actions. Subsequent actions and access to intervention vary across the two authorities.
Where there are existing staff working with children deemed at risk of anti-social and offending behaviour, child criminal exploitation, and/or serious youth violence the EVR Hub provide consultation, sign-posting and resource support to staff/professionals. Support to access positive activities provided by Play and Youth Service and a range of voluntary providers across the city, including direct individual and group intervention, is also offered.
Direct 1:1 support is provided for children identified as the most significant need in relation to serious youth violence and/or child criminal exploitation. This is accessed from referral via the Child Criminal Exploitation Panel, or in cases where children may have been arrested by Police and released under investigation.
In the County, similar screening and access expertise will be offered. Where children are known to YJS then the team manager should be invited to the initial strategy discussion where subsequent support and intervention can be agreed. If a child is not known or not open to YJS, then where there is sufficient concern in relation to their behaviour or circumstances (see Level Three on the Pathway to Provision), direct support will be considered. Similar to City, County YJS support will also be considered at the monthly Serious Youth Violence and Child Exploitation Panel and may be considered by Police at the point of arrest, if they are looking to bail; release under investigation; or take no further action, but remain concerned about the risk of exploitation or offending in the short to medium term.
Nottinghamshire County Council's Youth Service has a long and successful history of directly delivering open access and bespoke programmes of Youth Work intervention based on positive relationships, honesty and trust. In Nottinghamshire, Youth Work has a tiered approach of engagement, enabling young people to access additional support depending on their individual need. The Youth Service's ambition is to enable young people to independently access mainstream universal provision, but also recognises that at times young people may need extra care and support. Therefore, our offer is carefully designed to enable long term contextual support via our regular youth club sessions as an when young people need it, as well as focused and tailored Youth Work interventions.
The service Team Manager receives invites for all CCE meeting and ensures that there is representation from the Youth Service. All young people discussed at these meetings are prioritised at our Youth Support Decision Panel, which is a partnership meeting between Youth Service's Interventions Team and the Youth Justice Service. The Youth Support Decision Panel meets fortnightly to decide what interventions and support is needed along with who is best placed to lead on this work. These meeting also offer an opportunity to discuss children of concern who have been identified at the County's Serious Youth Violence and Exploitation Panel. The aim is to always 'Step' children down through this youth work process and the exit strategy is to link the child to their local Youth Service provision.
The Play and Youth service supports Nottingham City's Early Help offer by delivering open access and targeted programmes, which are built on youth and play work principles, including trusted positive relationships, children having a say, somewhere safe to go, something to do and someone to talk.
The Play and Youth Service are an integral part of Nottingham's Model for Prevention, Early Intervention and Early Help, which focuses on identifying needs and providing the right support at the right time. The service supports children in a universal setting, but also provides individual support for those children that need targeted additional or intensive support.
The Play and Youth service also has dedicated Youth workers seconded to the YJS Exploitation and Violence Reduction Hub, providing additional support for children who have been referred due to their risk of being drawn into serious youth violence or child criminal exploitation. The aim is to provide a contextual approach to support children in accessing services, accessing safe spaces, positive activities and effective interventions.
The Play and Youth Team Managers also attend weekly Out of Court Disposal meetings with Youth Justice Service and attend the CCE panel to provide additional support for children who are vulnerable to CCE and SYV.
Education and Alternative Provisions
- All schools, colleges and alternative provisions have a statutory responsibility for safeguarding and are in a prime position to identify concerns early, provide help for children and prevent concerns from escalating. All staff should be prepared to identify children who may benefit from early help and should follow the referral processes and procedures of their individual settings; always working in the best interests of the child. All staff but in particular the designated safeguarding lead (and deputies) should be aware of concerning incidents and/or behaviours that occur outside of the education setting, in a range of environments and potentially involving peers; these may be an early indicator of criminal or sexual exploitation as well as other forms of abuse or exploitation and be an opportunity for early intervention. Opportunities for early intervention may include; Pastoral Support from the school or setting;
- Engagement with individual and/or their peers, diversionary activities, work around healthy/unhealthy relationships, RSHE curriculum;
- Signposting to:
- Family Service (County only);
- Accessing support from the Tackling Emerging Threats to Children (TETC) Team (County only);
- Support from School Early Intervention Officers (SEIOs – Police);
- Early Help assessment;
- Referral for statutory services, for example as the child might be in need, is in need or suffering or likely to suffer harm.
N.B. where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer from harm, it is important that a referral to children's social care (and if appropriate the police) is made immediately.
Within the county, schools and alternative provision may also refer to the 'Contextual Safeguarding – A Nottinghamshire Response' and the 'Understanding Behaviour in Schools a relationship based approach to inclusion'.
In the County, Community Safety colleagues are active partners attending multi agency meetings at all levels.
8. Working with Children and Parents
Children's needs and safety must come first. This means that professionals need to work flexibly and continue to 'stay with the child', even when they appear unwilling to engage, which may be due to the levels of violence they have witnessed, been threatened with and/or have experienced. Strengthening relationships between children, parents/carers and professionals that are based on consistency, stability and respectful communication will help in supporting effective interventions with exploited children. Professionals should remain aware of the importance of Appropriate Language in their contact with children and parents and how contact with children and parents should be approached.
When a child presents with offending, or other concerning behaviour, professionals need to be aware of their own unconscious bias, be curious and compassionate and ask: what is happening in this child's life that is causing them to behave this way? What are the child’s unmet needs? What needs to change in order to reduce the risk? Who is best placed to offer the support?
The behaviours that children present with, such as offending or violence, may result from exploitation outside the home and/or from abuse at home. Any interventions need to take into account all risks and needs. Children who have been criminally exploited are the victims of crime (although they may not initially see themselves as such).
Agencies should consider the context of the child's behaviour as well as the impact (for example, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mental health issues or substance misuse), to help determine an effective response. This is particularly relevant for children exploited through county lines activity.
Supporting parents/carers when the abuse is outside of the family requires professionals to acknowledge the fear, anxiety, anger that parents may be feeling. Using a strength-based approach, professionals should offer non-judgemental support, listen, understand, respect and value the contributions parents/carers can make in safeguarding their child.
Parents/carers may also be signposted to the following services for additional support:
Protecting children from criminal exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery (GOV.UK) - thematic report from Joint Inspections on the risk of child criminal exploitation.
Children and Young People Trafficked for the Purpose of Criminal Exploitation in Relation to County Lines a Toolkit For Professionals - (The Children's Society in partnership with Victim Support and the National Police Chiefs' Council) - a number of resources that may be useful for professionals when working with children and young people, their families and communities at risk of abuse and exploitation.
Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: county lines (GOV.UK) - Guidance for frontline professionals on dealing with county lines, part of the government's approach to ending gang violence and exploitation.
Child exploitation disruption toolkit (The Home Office) - Disruption tactics for those working to safeguard children and young people under the age of 18 from sexual and criminal exploitation.
County lines exploitation: guidance for practitioners (Ministry of Justice) - Practice guidance for Youth Offending Teams and frontline practitioners.
County lines exploitation: practice guidance poster (Ministry of Justice) - Note: not all processes included may be applicable to your local area, so please refer to your local CCE Pathway as well.
Running the Risk (Catch 22, 2015) - Report on children and young people being recruited to travel to areas away from home to sell drugs.
County Lines after COVID - a new threat? (2020) - Crest Advisory Report examining the changing picture of county lines activity.