Child Exploitation

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

Child exploitation comes in many forms, yet the patterns often remain the same. Child 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.


Our safeguarding response to the harm that children and young people face beyond their families, requires a different approach. This approach, Contextual Safeguarding recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.


It is essential for practitioners from across the partnership to engage with individuals and sectors who do have influence over and within these extra-familial contexts. The assessment of, and intervention in, these spaces are a critical part of safeguarding practices. Download the legal and policy framework for Contextual Safeguarding (Frimin and Knowles, 2020) to find out more. 




Criminal exploitation has received considerable media coverage in the last year, with a focus on county lines activity. This is when individuals or groups use vulnerable children and adults to transport and sell illegal drugs, primarily from urban areas into market or coastal towns or rural areas, to establish new drug markets or take over existing ones. The use of phone lines as a way to distribute drugs gives this activity the name 'county lines'. Perpetrators may 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. This is called 'cuckooing'. 


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.

Spotlight on: County Lines

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

In an emergency

If someone is at immediate risk of significant harm, please call 999. Do not delay.

Language Toolkit

Use language that recognises that young people at risk of exploitation are victims and survivors of exploitation, and not complicit in their own abuse. Download this guide produced by the Children's Society.  

Support for

Young Women

Abianda is a social enterprise that works with young women affected by gangs, and provides training for the professionals who work with them. 



Safer London provides intensive support, early intervention and mentoring.

Free Resources


Join the Contextual Safeguarding Network for free to access resources, tutorials, videos and briefings.

Make a referral for support

Contact Lambeth's Integrated Referral Hub on 020 7926 5555 and follow up with a completed Multi-agency Referral Form.

Culturally Competent Responses

Download Power The Fight's  Therapeutic Intervention for Peace report to improve the effectiveness of therapeutic responses to violence affecting young people in London.

County Lines Guidance

The Home Office County Lines Guidance aims to support front-line staff working with young people. (Sep 2018)

Specialist Support

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

Exploitation Risk Matrix

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

Disruption Toolkit

Download the Home Office's Child Exploitation Toolkit to support frontline practitioners safeguard children and young people at risk of exploitation. 

County Lines Professionals' Toolkit

Useful guidance for practitioners developed by Children's Society, Victims Support and the National Police Chief's Council.   

Pan-London Exploitation Protocol

Launched in March 2021, this police-led, multiagency document sets out the operating protocol for safeguarding children from exploitation. The guidance complements the London Child Protection Procedures.