Violence Reduction Alliance

Child Criminal Exploitation

Are you listening?

Child Criminal Exploitation

Would you be able to spot the signs of child criminal exploitation (CCE)? We all have the power to spot the signs and help.

Just a couple of minutes long, the film asks people to know the signs of CCE and act immediately if they have information or concerns. Although the characters are fictional, they represent real experiences. 

In the film, the signs of CCE are being made obvious to adults who are in a position of being trusted and respected by a young person; however, the adults fail to listen to what they are being told and miss opportunities to help. The film seeks to help adults recognise the signs of CCE and the crucial part they can play by taking appropriate action.

CCE is when someone uses a child (under 18 years old) to commit criminal acts such as: ‘county lines’ drugs dealing, move/conceal/carry weapons, theft and robbery. Gangs also groom children and young people to open bank accounts and launder criminal money, this is called child financial exploitation (CFE). 

Children can be exploited by individuals or groups, men or women, adults or young people and can take place either in person, online or via phone. A child may have been exploited even if it looks as though they are willing to participate in the criminal acts. 

CCE is form of child abuse and we all have the power to spot the signs.

  • Unexplainable money – new belongings such as clothes, electronic devices that they can’t explain how they paid for them
  • Repeat missing episodes from school or home
  • Travelling to other areas 
  • High number of text or phone calls 
  • Being secretive about who they are with or speaking to 
  • Decline in school or work performance 
  • Significant changes in emotional of physical well-being

Advice for parents and carers

What is ‘County Lines’?

County Lines is a form of criminal exploitation where urban gangs persuade, coerce or force children, young people and vulnerable adults to store drugs and money and/or transport then to suburban areas, market torn and coastal towns (Home Office, 2018). 

Organised criminal groups (OCGs) use phone lines to move and supply drugs, they exploit vulnerable people, including children and those with mental health or addiction issues, by recruiting them to distribute their drugs. 

County Lines can happen in any part of the UK and is a form of child abuse. Other forms of criminal exploitation include child sexual exploitation, trafficking, gang and knife crime. Find out about work the VRA is supporting to help prevent and reduce child exploitation here

Phrases that young people may use to refer to county lines include: 

  • ‘running a line’
  • going OT/out there’
  • ‘going cunch’
  • ‘going country’

These all refer to going out of town to deliver drugs, money or other illegal packages such as, weapons. 

Where can I go for support?

If you are worried about a child and wish to make a referral, please visit the below safeguarding website relevant to your local authority: 

If you believe somebody is in immediate danger always dial 999.

Alternatively, if you wish to give information anonymously visit the CrimeStoppers website below.

Other useful resources

Advice for young people

What is a gang?

The word ‘gang’ can have different meanings depending on what context it is used. In the Government’s paper ‘Safeguarding for children and young people who may be affected by gang activity’ they distinguish between peer groups, street gangs and organised crime groups (OCGs).

  • Peer group – A relatively small social group which may or may not describe themselves as a ‘gang’ depending on the context. 
  • Street gang – Groups of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as an established group who are known to commit criminal acts and acts of violence. 
  • Organised criminal gangs or ‘OCGs’ – A group of individuals involved in crime for personal gain (i.e. financial). These individuals will see crime as their ‘occupation’.
What is grooming?

Organised crime groups groom children, young people and vulnerable adults by building a relationship, trust and an emotional connection with them. Once they have built this relationship with them they will manipulate, exploit and abuse them. 

Anybody can be a groomer. It doesn’t matter what age, gender, or race they are. Grooming can happen over a short or long period of time and can either be online or in person. Groomers may even build a relationship with family members to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative. 

Groomers can form different types of relationships with a vulnerable person. This could be: 

  • Romantic relationship 
  • Mentor 
  • Authoritative figure 
  • Dominant and persistent figure

Whether online or in person, groomers often use tactics such as: 

  • Buying gifts
  • Giving attention, advice or showing understanding 
  • Pretending to be younger 
  • Taking them on trips, outings or holidays
I’m being pressured to carry packages for a gang. What can I do?
  • You should never let anybody pressure you into doing something you don’t want to
  • If you think you may be pressured into carrying something illegal, try to think of a way to say no before you are put on the spot
  • Try to stay away from situations that you know are likely to result in somebody asking you to do something you don’t want to do 
  • Find positive things to do which will help you avoid dangerous situation
Help and Support

If you are worried about yourself a friend, being pressured into carrying an illegal package or are in a situation that you feel uncomfortable, you can get advice from independent agencies. When you contact them you do not have to give your personal details or  information. 



Victim Support 


Is This Ok?

Staffordshire Youth Offending Prevention Service

If you believe you, or somebody else, is in immediate danger always dial 999.

Help and Support available to you

Visit our Support page for further information and advice on where to go for support.


We are taking a partnership and inclusion approach to bringing about positive changes in communities throughout Staffordshire & Stoke-on-Trent. These projects are created or selected based on understanding and needs of local communities, brought by those who are living and working within them.

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