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Criminal Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County Lines guidance

What is Child Criminal Exploitation?

Child criminal exploitation is increasingly used to describe this type of exploitation where children are involved, and is defined as:

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.

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.

Who’s this guidance for?

This guidance is primarily aimed at frontline staff who work with children, young people and potentially vulnerable adults. This includes professionals working in education, health, housing, benefits, law enforcement (police) and related partner organisations. This guidance is also useful for carers and parents, although they are not the primary audience.

It has been produced by the Home Office in co-operation with other Government Departments, National Crime Agency, Local Government Association, National Police Chiefs’ Council, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London.

What’s this guidance for?

Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults is a geographically widespread form of harm that is a typical feature of county lines activity. It is a harm which is relatively little known about or recognised by those best placed to spot its potential victims. This guidance is intended to explain the nature of this harm to enable practitioners to recognise its signs and respond appropriately so that potential victims get the support and help they need.

What is county lines exploitation?

County lines is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of Government departments, local government agencies and VCS (voluntary and community sector) organisations.

The UK Government defines county lines as:

County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of "deal line". They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.

County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.

This guidance is for frontline professionals on dealing with county lines, part of the government’s approach to ending gang violence and exploitation.