Criminal Exploitation

What is Child Criminal Exploitation?

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) is where a person manipulates, deceives, coerces or controls a child to undertake a criminal activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants and/or for the financial advantage or the increased status of the perpetrator.

A child won’t always act or feel like a victim, often this may be because they have been groomed to feel respected and to feel important to perpetrators. CCE can involve bribery, intimidation, violence and/or threats, however, a child does not need to have met whomever is exploiting them – children can be exploited online, using mobile phones and through social media. It is the responsibility of all who work or volunteer with children and their families to understand CCE, know the signs and to act if you suspect a child is in danger.

What are the different types of CCE?

County Lines

Perpetrators befriend and manipulate vulnerable children to deliver drugs. 'Lines' are often referred to as the mobile phones that are used to control a child who may deliver drugs, often to places outside the area they live.

Typically, perpetrators use phones to receive orders and contact children to instruct them where to deliver drugs.

The Slang Dictionary, produced by The Children's Society has a full range of terminology used in relation to County Lines that would be helpful for practitioners to understand.

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How Does County Lines Work?

The National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC) have produced a 10 minute video discussing the County Lines approach and how this is impacting children and vulnerable adults, services and society:


Perpetrators build trusting relationships and emotional connections with vulnerable children to exploit and groom them.

Children who are identified as targets may have vulnerabilities from various factors, such as family issues, poverty, social isolation, a history of abuse, or a lack of positive role models. Perpetrators look for children who may be seeking a sense of belonging, identity, or financial gain and respond with flattery, attention or gifts. They do this through:

  • Guilt
  • Emotional coercion
  • Threats
  • Isolating the child to deepen their dependance

Grooming can happen in person or online and children who are groomed can be abused, trafficked and exploited in various ways. Perpetrators will desensitise a child to the types of criminal activity they are part of, making it difficult for a child to seek help and break the cycle.

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Three Stages of Grooming

October 2020

The Children's Society, have developed a short video which explains the three stages of grooming, how criminals target children and how the exploitation occurs.


A gang can be defined simply, as a group of people who hang around together.

Children join gangs for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Fitting in with friends and other gang members
  • Feeling respected and important
  • Protection from bullying or from other gangs
  • Making money from crime or drugs
  • Gaining status and feeling powerful
  • Having the same interests as other people, like sports or music

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Organised Crime Group (OCG)

OCGs are gangs who use intimidation tactics and corruption for unlawful gain. They are deceitful and unscrupulous in their pursuit of money, power or personal gratification through the harm of others, including children.

For most people within an OCG, crime is their 'occupation'.

It is not illegal for a child to be in a gang, as not every gang is criminal, however, OCGs are violent and tend to be involved in criminal activity, such as drugs, weapons and trafficking.

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Carrying a weapon

It is illegal to possess any weapon in a public place and it is against the law for any person to sell any kind of weapon to a child (anyone under 18).

If a child is carrying a weapon they may be being exploited.

Consider that they may carry a weapon for:

  • Self defence
  • Personal conflicts
  • Gang related violence: protection of territory, rivalries and criminal activity such as drug trafficking

Speak to West Yorkshire Police for more information about knife related crimes and to access their resources click here.

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Drop The Knife For A Better Life

This short knife crime awareness film is about a child called 'Sean' who makes a life-changing decision, just to impress his school mates and ‘fit in’.

Developed and funded by West Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), this video shows what sadly is an everyday occurrence in the UK.

May 2020

Home Invasion (Cuckooing)

Children and vulnerable people can become prisoners in their own home if they are exploited by perpetrators as they take over their homes for illegal activity.

Forms of illegal activity could include:

  • The growing, preparation, storing and distribution of drugs such as cannabis and methamphetamine
  • Concealment of weapons and cash
  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse (see our Child Sexual Exploitation page)
  • Taking control over the home through intimidation and violence to operate criminal activities from a location which is not associated with them

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Serious Youth Violence

Behaviour exhibited by children which involves physical force intended to hurt, injure or kill someone.

It includes a range of acts from bullying, both offline and online, and physical fighting, to more severe sexual and physical assault, gang-related violence or murder.

What are some of the causes and risk factors?

  • Socio and Economic Factors Poverty, limited access to educational and employment opportunities, and unstable family environments
  • Exposure to Violence Witnessing or experiencing violence at home or in the community can desensitise young individuals and normalise aggressive behaviours
  • Peer Pressure Peer influence can lead to engagement in violent activities to gain social acceptance or protect themselves from potential threats
  • Substance Abuse The use of drugs and alcohol can impair judgment and lead to impulsive and violent actions
  • Mental Health Issues There may be untreated mental health problems, such as conduct disorders, depression, or post-traumatic stress, which can contribute to violent behaviours

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What are the Risk Factors of CCE?

Any child can be a victim of child criminal exploitation.

This incudes children who:

  • Are known to Children & Young People's Services
  • Missing from school or college and who have been excluded
  • Are open to services due to poverty, neglect or abuse
  • Do not have a safe and stable home
  • Have social isolation or other social difficulties
  • Have connections with people involved in gangs or crime
  • Have a disability
  • Have mental health issues
  • Have alcohol or drug problems
  • Are in care

Any sudden change in a child's lifestyle could be because of criminal exploitation and you should talk to them about it, children are more likely to open up to an adult they have an existing relationship with.

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Spotting the Signs of CCE

CCE is happening in all areas of the country, including in and around the Wakefield District.

The most obvious sign is a change in a child's behaviour from what is considered as 'normal' for them.

Signs can include:

  • Withdrawal from usual group of friends and a mention of older or new friends
  • Having gifts, a new phone or money that can’t be accounted for
  • Becoming withdrawn or secretive
  • Receiving large numbers of calls or messages to their phone or being worried about being away from their phone
  • A drop in grades or performance, as well as suspension or exclusion from school/college
  • Going missing from home or not showing up to school/college or regular afterschool groups or clubs
  • Becoming involved in low level criminality such as antisocial behaviour
  • Changes in well-being and self-harming
  • Carrying weapons

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Next steps to consider
  • What to do if you suspect CCE?
    Show details
    • CONTACT: West Yorkshire Police
    • Contact: Local Authority Designated Offcer (LADO)
    • CONTACT: Integrated Front Door
    • Refer: National Referral Mechanism
    • Use: Screening Tool
    • USE: Other reporting tools
    Consider the following:
      West Yorkshire Police

      If a child is in immediate danger, call 999.

      For guidance and support on what to do if you suspect CCE you can call 101.

      If you have information that you want to share with the police you can do so by submitting it via the Partnership Intelligence Portal (PIP)
    • Contact
      Children Vulnerable to Exploitation (CVE) Screening Tool

      Coming Soon
      Integrated Front Door (IFD)

      Visit the WSCP website worried about a child page for all information relating to the IFD and MASH team
    • Refer
      National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

      NRM guidance here

      Report any incidents of Modern Slavery here

      Members of the public should call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or report it online.
    • Use
      LADO: Allegations against a professional

      Refer to the WSCP LADO one minute guide for more information
    • USE
      Other reporting tools:

      Text the British Transport Police on 61016
      Call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111
      Call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000
      Call the Modern Slavery Helpline 0800 012 1700 or fill in their online form.
  • How Professional Curiosity & Challenge can help you
    Show details
    Being professionally curious and challenging is essential when it comes to identifying types of child exploitation, as some may occur in isolation whilst others alongside each other. It can be difficult to distinguish what type of exploitation a child is experiencing but having a contextual safeguarding approach to your assessment will help you to identify, prevent, disrupt and stop exploitation. Risks posed to a child may vary but can be as serious as death, we must therefore ensure the correct safeguarding response is considered when a child is being abused.

    To understand what is meant by professional curiosity and challenge in the Wakefield district and how to adopt this approach, please click below.

    Learn more about professional curiosity and challenge on the WSCP webpages here


Nicole's Story: the child victims of UK drug gangs

BBC News, 2022

There’s been a big rise in the number of children being trafficked and exploited by criminal gangs in the UK.

Young children are being groomed and recruited by drugs gangs to carry and deliver drugs around the UK.

One such victim is Nicole from Newcastle in north east England, who was targeted by the gangs when she was just 11 and made to work for them.

Are you Listening?

In 2021, Leicestershire Police launched film about four young people who are being exploited.

In the film the signs of Child Criminal Exploitation are being made obvious to adults however the adults fail to listen to what they are being told and miss opportunities to help.

Although the characters are fictional they represent real experiences. Children who are caught up in this type of activity do not see themselves as a 'victims' as perpetrators make them feel important, respected and looked after.

Child Criminal Exploitation: 
The Local Picture

West Yorkshire Police provide an overview of County Lines in December 2020, including who is vulnerable, signs to look for, the terminology used and an overview of what’s happening in the Wakefield District.

  • Appropriate Language in Relation to Child Exploitation
    Show details
    This document seeks to provide guidance to professionals on the appropriate use of language when discussing children and their experience of exploitation in a range of contexts.

    To access the guidance, please click here.

One Minute Guide
  • Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)
    Show details
    Children involved with gangs and criminal exploitation might be victims of violence or pressured into doing things like stealing or carrying drugs or weapons. They might be abused, exploited and put into dangerous situations. Read more and download here.

    To view the Child Exploitation series of One Minute Guides visit our Child Exploitation Learning and Development page and read more about online, child criminal, child trafficking, modern slavery and financial exploitation.

Developing skills and knowlegde around CCE
  • Text link image Learning & Development
    Show details
    Access the range of Child Exploitation training, development and resources from WSCP, as well as signposting to local and national services on our CE learning & development page.

    There you will find links to current training offers, one minute guides, briefings, learning from reviews and signposting to local and national services that can help you with developing your skills and knowledge around Child Exploitation.

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