Child Criminal Exploitation

Please read this page in conjunction with the information page on Modern Slavery & Child Trafficking

Child Criminal Exploitation is 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 has received considerable media coverage in the last year and there is a particular focus on the risks of county lines activity. This is when individuals or gangs use vulnerable children and adults to transport and sell Class A drugs, primarily from urban areas into market or coastal towns or rural areas to establish new drug markets or take over existing ones. They also use children to transport and hide weapons and to secure dwellings of vulnerable people in the area, so that they can use them as a base from which to sell drugs.


County lines is about modern slavery, human trafficking and exploitation, alongside drug supply and violent crime. It is a highly lucrative illegal business model. The adults running these networks are removed from the front line activity of dealing – they exploit children who are at high risk transporting and selling drugs often many miles from home.

There are high levels of violence and intimidation linked to this activity. Children can be very quickly groomed into criminal activity - often before parents or professionals realise what is happening. It is critical that practitioners working directly with children and vulnerable adults are aware of what county lines is, how to identify those at risk or involved in county lines exploitation and what action to take.

What are the signs of criminal exploitation and county lines?

  • Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing

  • Being found in areas away from home

  • Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them

  • Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going

  • Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work

  • Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery

  • Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour

  • Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know

  • Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled

  • Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.

Support and Resources



If a child is at immediate risk of significant harm, please dial 999.

Please call or email and follow up with a Multi-agency Referral Form.

Make a referral

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Intensive Help

St Giles Trust offers a range of programmes to support young people exposed to or at risk from violence and exploitation. 

Pan-London Service

SaferLondon provides intensive support, early intervention and mentoring. 

Government Guidance

The HO County Lines Guidance aims to support front-line staff working with vulnerable young people. (September 2018)

Professionals' Toolkit

Produced by The Children’s Society, Victim Support and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (March 2018).

Exploitation Risk Matrix

Use the Lambeth Child Exploitation Risk Matrix to help identify and clarify concerns and actions.

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© 2020 Lambeth Safeguarding Children Partnership