Child Criminal Exploitation

Child Criminal Exploitation

What is child criminal exploitation?

The Home Office, 2018 defines Child Criminal Exploitation as;

Occurring where an individual or group takes advantage of a person under the age of 18 and may coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under that age into any activity....

  • in exchange for something the victim needs or wants and/or

  • for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator and/or

  • through violence or the threat of violence

The victim may be exploited even if the activity appears consensual (ie: moving drugs or the proceeds of drugs from one place to another)
Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

‘Child Criminal Exploitation’ or CCE, it is increasingly being recognised as a major factor behind crime in communities across Merseyside and the UK, while also simultaneously victimising vulnerable young people and leaving them at risk of harm.

CCE often occurs without the victim being aware that they are being exploited and involves young people being encouraged, cajoled or threatened to carry out crime for the benefit of others. In return they are offered friendship or peer acceptance, but also cigarettes , drugs (especially cannabis), alcohol or even food and accommodation.

Children as young as 10 or 11 are being groomed to enter gangs and commit crime on behalf of older criminals. These young people are being exploited and, by being persuaded or lured into carrying out illegal activities, often with the promise of something they desire as a reward, they become incredibly vulnerable.

Victims of CCE are often fearful of getting into trouble themselves - for the very actions they have been exploited into carrying out - so it can also be difficult to get these young people to come forward and speak out about their situation.

What are ‘county lines’?

County lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns 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’.

County lines is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of Government departments, local government agencies and VCS (voluntary and community sector) organisations. County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities. Home Office County Lines Guidance Sept 2018


Going missing is a dangerous activity. A child or young person who goes missing just once faces the same immediate risks as those faced by a child or young person who regularly goes missing. However, children who go missing when they are young, and/or more frequently are more likely to face longer-term problems.

The Pan Merseyside Missing Children Procedure has been created to provide a joined up multi agency response to children and young people who are missing or have gone missing from home and care.

PAN Merseyside Missing Children Protocol 2022

PAN Merseyside Missing Children Procedure

Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation Protocol 2020

What to do if you’re worried about a child?

If you are a professional concerned about child exploitation you should refer to the Responding to Need Guidance.

You should also use this Screening Tool to help to identify you concerns CE Screening Tool.

Where appropriate share your concerns to Children's Advice & Support Service (CASS) using a Multi-Agency Referral Form MARF.

If you have concerns a child is already suffering significant harm or is at risk of significant harm you should contact the CASS Customer Services team on a new number – 0151 459 2606 (this must be followed up in writing using the MARF within one working day).

You should always discuss your concerns with the senior person in your organisation who is responsible for safeguarding and child protection.

If you are worried about the immediate exploitation of children and young people, please report it to the Police on 999.