County lines and criminal exploitation toolkit
This toolkit hopes to address some gaps in knowledge and offer suggestions for supporting young people who are at risk of, or being trafficked for the purpose of criminal exploitation.
What is criminal exploitation and county lines?
About criminal exploitation
The term 'county lines' is becoming widely recognised and used to describe situations where children or young people may be internally trafficked for the purpose of criminal exploitation.
What is often less understood are the experiences a child or young person faces, and the potential for them to be harmed through various forms of abuse and exploitation as a result.
This toolkit hopes to address some gaps in knowledge and offer suggestions for supporting young people who are being, or at risk of being, trafficked for the purpose of criminal exploitation.
There is currently no legal definition of 'county lines' or 'criminal exploitation', and very little guidance. Currently, the criminal exploitation of children and young people is often not fully understood by services working with them, which can impact on the response that a child or young person receives.
Trafficking and criminal exploitation are forms of abuse and therefore should be afforded a safeguarding response. Often the visible symptoms of this abuse are responded to, meaning that many children and young people receive a criminal justice response, while their safeguarding needs are overlooked.
According to the recent National Crime Agency briefing on County Lines Violence, Exploitation and Drug Supply, two in three police forces reported that the exploitation of children and young people was identified in relation to county lines activity. One in four police forces reported that children and young people involved in county lines were experiencing sexual abuse. However the latest report also acknowledged that, although the exploitation of children and young people continues to be reported, the true scale of abuse remains an intelligence gap in many parts of the country.
Criminal exploitation interlinks with a number of multiple vulnerabilities and offences, including the child or young person being exposed to, and/or being victim of, physical and emotional violence, neglect, sexual abuse and exploitation, modern day slavery and human trafficking, domestic abuse and missing episodes.
Supporting young people affected by exploitation
The following list includes a range of practical tips and recommendations for professionals when working with children and young people who have been, or are being, criminally exploited:
- Don’t make judgements, especially in relation to their involvement in criminal activities. Remember they may appear to be willing participants, but it is likely that their actions and choices are being controlled by perpetrators with more power than them.
- Advocate for the child or young person, and for the child protection processes to be followed, using the three steps outlined previously: report to police, refer to Children’s Social Care and refer to the National Referral Mechanism.
- Challenge professional views which are oppressive, judgmental, or reject the need for a child protection response.
- Explain what is happening and why you might need to share information. Keep the young person updated on any outcomes.
- Ensure the child or young person is given choices. Throughout their experience of being criminally exploited, they will have been working with parameters of little or no choice, and therefore it is important that the child or young person is given the element of choice back.
- Be interested, professionally curious, listen to what the young person is saying, and hear it from a safeguarding perspective.
- As a starting point to explaining exploitation, it can be helpful to talk about the long hours a child or young person is expected to carry out criminal activities as being exploitative in itself. This can open up further discussion about what is going on for them.
- Explore a child or young person’s identity and ensure you create a safe space for this.
- Discussing relevant music and music videos can open up conversations around county lines, physical/sexual violence, status, power and control.
- Look to build a child or young person’s resilience, looking at their strengths and future plans.
- Be creative in your approach and ask what the child or young person wants and needs.
Download the Toolkit
If you'd like to learn more about county lines, barriers to engagement with young people, further research and resources, download the full Toolkit.