Child Criminal Exploitation and County Lines

Child Criminal Exploitation is common in county lines and occurs 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.

County lines is a growing problem in the UK. Gangs are exploiting vulnerable young people, some just 12 years old, to carry drugs and sell them to other parts of the country.

Often, these children are assumed missing and when they turn up out of their area and in trouble with the police they are criminalised and not seen as victims. They can go for days without food and are forced to live in awful, squat conditions

Criminal exploitation of children is broader than just county lines, and includes for instance children forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft.

How does it affect children and vulnerable adults?

Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, county lines exploitation:

  • can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years;
  • can affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years;
  • can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual;
  • can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults; and
  • is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

Multi-Agency Partner Information Sharing Form 

Please complete Multi-Agency Partner Information Submission Form and submit via email to the email address provided on the form. 

This allows professionals to share ‘soft intelligence’ and information that does not necessitate a report to the Safeguarding Hub or the Police about a specific incident or concern for a child.  This will allow us to develop a more accurate intelligence profile for the County and enhance our ability to identify and manage risk

Further information

Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults: County Lines (The Home Office) ( This guidance outlines what county lines (and associated criminal exploitation) is, signs to look for in potential victims, and what to do about it.

County Lines Violence, Exploitation & Drug Supply (National Crime Agency, 2017) 

Moving Drugs and Cash Along County Lines - What we know about the Exploitation of Children and Young People by Criminal Gangs and Networks

Resources for professionals

Children and Young People Trafficked for the purpose of Criminal Exploitation in relation to County Lines : Toolkit for professionalsthis external link will open in a new window

Appropriate Language: Child Sexual and/or Criminal Exploitation - Guidance for professionalsthis external link will open in a new window

Disruption Checklist for Child Criminal Exploitation (related to 'county lines')this external link will open in a new window

Guidelines for writing a clear referral for the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)this external link will open in a new window

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