Child Criminal Exploitation

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) can be understood as the exploitation of children and young people aged under 18 years in the storage, distribution and selling of illegal drugs, under violent coercion or exploited through the use of debt, or promise of cash or drugs. Patterns of grooming behaviour by adults can be seen to be similar to those associated with sexual exploitation. There will be a power imbalance and children and young people should not be viewed as at fault, ‘choosing a lifestyle’ or making an informed choice.

Criminal exploitation is not restricted to drugs; some children are transporters of cash as well as firearms and weapons, and are coerced into carrying out theft and burglaries. Many children and young people subject to CCE are exploited by criminal gangs.

Children and young people involved in criminal exploitation are often sent to differing locations within the United Kingdom to carry out tasks for gangs, such as supplying drugs to suburban areas, market and coastal towns. Gangs are usually based in cities. This criminal activity is known as ‘county lines’ – a term that is used by the police. This type of movement of children falls within the legal definition of trafficking (guide) in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Child trafficking is defined as the ‘recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt’ of a child for the purpose of exploitation.

CCE needs to be viewed in the context of broader vulnerabilities and other forms of exploitation and abuse. This could be within families, communities or more sophisticated organised crime groups. There needs to be consideration around the overlap and links between familial violence and/or criminality, trauma, peer to peer abuse, CSE, gang violence, going missing, and (as above) trafficking and modern day slavery.


Produced by the Violence Reduction Network and Leicestershire Police.

Child Exploitation Risk Identification Tool and practice guidance

This tool, along with the practice guidance, will help you decide whether a child or young person may be at risk of criminal exploitation or more than one form of child exploitation.


County Lines

In July 2017 the Government issued guidance on County Lines, the guidance gives recognition that County Lines (and Child Criminal Exploitation) is safeguarding concern for children, young people and vulnerable adults.


What are County lines?

County lines is a cross-cutting issue which can involve drugs, violence, gangs, , criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery and missing adults or children.

County lines is a police term for urban gangs who supply drugs to market and coastal towns, and the suburban areas of larger cities, through the use of dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”. County lines can also involve ‘Gangs’ establishing themselves in the targeted localities by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion; a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’ and the criminal exploitation of children /vulnerable adults to move drugs and money.

County lines and child criminal exploitation (CCE) can involve children experiencing physical, mental and/or sexual exploitation, often over a significant period of time.


How does it affect children and young people?

Just like any other form of abuse and exploitation, county lines and child criminal exploitation can:

  • Affect any child or young person under the age of 18 years;
  • Still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual or the child believes that they are a willing participant;
  • Involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance, which may be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • Be perpetrated by any individual or a group /gang, regardless of age or gender


  • Like all forms of abuse or exploitation it is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those are perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious power imbalance, a power imbalance can also result from other factors, such as; gender, cognitive ability, physical, strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

A key factor of county lines activity and Child Criminal exploitation is some form of exchange.

An exchange occurs when child who is being exploited is promised something, or given something they need or want, in exchange for undertaking an act ( often criminal), such as moving drugs or money.

The ‘exchange’ may involve a tangible reward for the child, such as money, drugs or clothes, or an intangible reward such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection, or both. Sometimes an exchange may simply be based on the prevention of something negative, such as a child being exploited to stop a threat to harm, (including to their friends /family).

When assessing the vulnerability or risk to a child, it is therefore important to give full consideration to the unequal power dynamic within the exchange, and to the factor that even if a child has received something they need or want, this does not make them any less of a victim.


What is Cuckooing

Cuckooing is when a drug dealer or a gang takes over a vulnerable adult’s address for criminal purposes,  usually as a site to supply, store or produce drugs from. Gangs will exploit an individual’s vulnerabilities in order to make a profit and avoid police detection. Cuckooing is often seen as a part of County Lines criminality which involves drug gangs exploiting children and vulnerable adults.

For the information leaflet below please email the LSCP Business Unit.


What to do if you are concerned for a child

Follow your organisation’s safeguarding process, the first step is usually to contact your designated safeguarding lead or your manager; they are responsible for liaising with children’s social care.

However, if you believe a child is in immediate risk of harm, you should contact the police.

County lines activity and child criminal exploitation can have a devastating impact on children young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.


Further information

For further information on the Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County Lines guidance see the home office website


LSCP CCE Event, June 2019

The LCSP hosted its first partnership event focusing on child criminal exploitation (CCE) on Tuesday 25th June at the Leeds Art Gallery and were delighted at the strong response and support of partners. The event was for frontline practitioners whose work involves working with children who may be at risk of CCE and their line managers. Speakers from Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire Police, and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, highlighted the complex nature of CCE and its interrelationship with other forms of exploitation, whilst the Student LSCP conveyed their support for tackling CCE via a video. The new Child Exploitation Risk Identification Tool and practice guidance were launched at the event, links to which can be found above.

The following presentations from the event are available on request

  • County Lines: Speaker, Detective Superintendent Carl Galvin, West Yorkshire Police
  • Children and Young People at risk of criminal Exploitation: Speaker, Jon Lund, Operational Manager, Youth Justice Service, Leeds City Council
  • Responding to Children and Young People in Leeds who may be at risk of Exploitation: Speakers, Farrah Khan, Service Delivery Manager, Front Door and Leanne Gilbert, Team Manager, Child Exploitation, Children’s Social Work Service, Leeds City Council.



The Home Office is working with partners to raise awareness of county lines. These posters have been designed to help staff to identify victims and report concerns to protect those exploited through this criminal activity.


One Minute Guide