The Role of County Lines in Child Criminal Exploitation

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Child protection can take many forms, as there are so many variations of situations which can make a child or young person vulnerable. It’s important to be aware of the different ways in which a child is vulnerable to exploitation in order to understand the help they are in need of. One such issue is the case of how county lines are used by predators (typically in gangs) to exploit children. The Home Office describes county lines as “a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons”; recognising that it takes a combined effort from many front-line services to combat exploiters. Children, young people and even at times vulnerable adults are at risk of being manipulated into moving and storing drugs and money across county lines. This is becoming synonymous with the general term child criminal exploitation due to the frequency of its occurrence and the severity of the impact it has on people’s lives.

Child victims can come from a whole range of backgrounds

The criminal networks who prey upon children and young people in this way, deliberately target those who are naturally more vulnerable – whether due to homelessness, substance abuse or poverty for example – however every child is at risk. As the 2018 addendum to the 2016 report “Time to listen – a joined up response to child sexual exploitation and missing children” noted, it needs to be recognised that child victims can come from a whole range of backgrounds. There’s a rising number of exploitation cases involving victims from much wealthier backgrounds, with private school students being targeted thanks to their external appearance of innocence.

Gangs are finding ways to manipulate the system

One of the elements why county lines is such a dominant issue nowadays is due to how easily gangs are finding ways to manipulate the system. Criminals get victims to cross county borders so that it’s harder to keep track of the drug channels or exploitation taking place. This therefore makes the job of an individual social worker trying to protect a child or young person much harder, while simultaneously strengthening the network of the gang. Research is highlighting how important it is for local authorities to establish more open channels of communication between front-line practitioners in order to share knowledge and expertise. While 1 social worker may not be able to take down an entire gang network on their own, the power of collaboration means that as a collective, it’s possible.

We need to be coming up with creative ideas

It’s also being noticed that local authorities, the police, partner agencies in health, education and more aren’t overtly seeking innovative ways to engage with children and young people at risk of being exploited through county lines. This means that the manners in which safeguarding professionals are trying to protect potential victims run the risk of becoming antiquated and out of date. In order to stay ahead of those who prey on vulnerable children and young people, and use our country’s geography to exploit them; we need to be coming up with creative ideas and be willing to think outside of the box.

All schools needs to understand the risks

If the different services involved in safeguarding children and protecting them from criminal exploitation were to have more in depth training about how county lines are abused, and the signs of a child being exploited; it’s more likely that they’ll be able to help more victims. Another key factor to consider, is that the signs and consequences of child exploitation should be more openly discussed with schools and colleges. If the profile of a victim doesn’t fit one particular demographic, then all schools needs to understand the risks posed to the children under their care.

After all, if the criminals are prepared to use county lines to their advantage, then professionals need to do the same.


Want to find out more about County Lines?

One Stop Social run training courses about Child Criminal Exploitation, County Lines & Gangs aimed at anyone working with children and/or young people. It’s a highly recommended, practical course which can be delivered across the UK – providing insight into the key areas of how county lines exploitation can affect vulnerable children/young people.




Useful Child Criminal Exploitation Resources

Are you working with children or young people who have experienced exploitation or are at risk? We have some helpful resources to aid your practice on our website, including the following:





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