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Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

Child criminal exploitation (CCE) is a growing issue where children and young people are targeted by criminals and gangs to get them to engage in criminal activity, such as stealing or carrying drugs or weapons.

The child or young person might be abused or put into dangerous positions. This is sometimes known as county lines.

County lines is the term for urban gangs who supply drugs to suburban areas, market and coastal towns around the UK using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”. It involves child criminal exploitation (CCE) as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money. Gangs establish a base in the market location, typically by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

The Children’s Commissioner estimates that there are at least 46,000 children in England who are involved in gang activity. These children are often brought into exploitation through the process of threatening, tricking, or grooming.

Grooming involves building a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with the child or young person so that they can be taken advantage of and exploited. The forms of relationship a groomer can build includes romantic relationships, mentorships, and relationships can be built via social media, messaging apps, on games and apps, or in person. A groomer will often give the child or young person a lot of attention, gifts, and take them on trips/outings or holidays.

Children and young people who have been exploited should always be treated as victims rather than suspects.

Signs of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

Knowing the signs of child criminal exploitation (CCE) can help give a voice to children. A child is unlikely to know they are being groomed or exploited and might not speak out. Any child can be groomed into exploitation, though some children may be more at risk. Children who are more vulnerable, for example children in care and children with disabilities, may be more heavily targeted by groomers who want the child to become dependent on them.

Any sudden changes in a young person’s lifestyle should be discussed with them. It is important to remember that warning signs will be presented differently for each child or young person being exploited. Teens might also behave in a way that could be seen as ‘normal teenage behaviour’, masking the exploitation.

Signs that a child or young person is being groomed or exploited into criminal activity or county lines include:

  • Persistently going missing from school or home and/or being found out-of-area
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, jewellery, or mobile phones
  • Excessive receipt of texts or phone calls
  • Spending more time online or on their devices
  • Using more than one phone
  • Suddenly acquiring expensive gifts such as mobile phones, jewellery – even drugs – and not being able to explain how they came by them
  • Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places
  • Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
  • Relationships with controlling older individuals or groups
  • Leaving home/care without explanation
  • Unexplained absences from school, college, training, or work
  • Returning home unusually late or staying out all night
  • Coming home looking dishevelled
  • Suspicion of physical assault or unexplained injuries
  • Carrying weapons
  • Starting or increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
  • Starting or increasing alcohol use
  • Loss of interest in school and significant decline in performance
  • Using sexual, gang, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
  • Meeting with unfamiliar people or associating with a gang
  • Becoming isolated from peers or social networks
  • Self-harm
  • Significant changes in emotional well-being
  • Sudden changes in lifestyle
  • Increasingly disruptive or violent behaviour
  • Getting into trouble with the police

Effects of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

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

Click here for more information and guidance on Criminal Exploitation and County Lines from the Home Office.

Click here for NSPCC’s information and guidance on grooming.

If you are concerned about a child, please contact the Integrated Front Door (IFD) using the link below

IFD Portal