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 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

Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County Lines guidance - Click to download:



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.