County lines and child criminal exploitation

Children as young as six are being forced to carry and sell drugs far away from their homes. They skip school, sleep in drug dens and are treated as criminals - when they often feel trapped in a hopeless situation. 

Enough is enough. Child exploitation must stop. We work hard to end this type of abuse and give those who have been exploited a chance for a better future.

What is county lines?

County lines is a form of criminal exploitation, in which criminals groom and manipulate children to sell drugs, often in towns outside their home county. A serious problem in the UK, its name comes from the mobile phone 'lines' that are used to control where the young person goes to deliver drugs.

How many young people are caught up in county lines?


children in England are thought to be involved in gangs. There is likely many more.


of English police forces have seen county lines activity in their area and the violence is getting worse.


teenagers are being criminally exploited in London alone.

How we help children affected by county lines

We work hard to stop criminal exploitation of children and make sure it doesn’t define a young person’s future. Young people who have been exploited come to us and we make sure they're treated as victims, not criminals. We help them rebuild their trust and make sure they're not targeted by gangs again.

Disrupting exploitation

Our Disrupting Exploitation Programme, funded by National Lottery Community Fund, makes children safer, gives them a better understanding of exploitation, and improves their relationships with family and friends.

Many will have missed out on school, healthy friendships, ‘normal’ things teenagers do. With their willingness and energy, our therapy sessions help them rebuild trust. 75% of young people we worked with reported feeling safer.

We also work with the police, local authorities, the NHS and schools. Through our award-winning project with the Metropolitan Police, we trained over 1,000 staff working in custody to build rapport with children, identify risks early on and take the right steps to keep the child out of custody in the future.

With everything we do, we ensure young voices are heard. Their experiences and stories feed back into shaping these programmes.

disrupting exploitation video teaser

Avoiding exploitation

school girl sitting on a bar outside dangling her trainer sole toward the camera

Our Climb programme gets young people off the streets and involved in sports, dance, arts and music. By offering activities to those who are skipping college or missing from home, we reduce the chances of them being taken in by criminal groups. 

This transformative service is the first of its kind in the country. It enables young people to learn skills, stay active and make positive choices. They form healthy friendships and learn how to recognise people and situations that might put them at risk.

Together with schools, police, social care, activity providers and other groups, we work to build more positive opportunities for children and young people.

Preventing exploitation

Our Prevention Programme empowers professionals and the public to help keep children safe. In our first year people we trained said they felt more confident in spotting the signs and responding to cases of criminal exploitation.

Our #LookCloser campaign focuses on how public spaces like bus and train stations, fast food outlets, shopping centres, roadside services and hotels may be places where exploitation is visible. We talk to commuters, coach drivers and railway staff about how to identify children being exploited. Through this project, we have identified potential victims and helped them to escape dangerous situations. 

We now work alongside the British Transport Police, delivering workshops across the country. Through our training, officers are less likely to treat the child as a criminal, and more likely to help them get the right support.  

young man big smile outside

Prevention Programme impact


Number of professionals, including police, took part in our Prevention Programme


of them felt better able to support young people afterwards

Are you worried about a child being criminally exploited?

If you think a young person you know could be in danger call 999, or if you have non-urgent information to share with the police, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

If you are concerned about a child’s welfare, contact your local social care department. We also have a guide for parents who may be concerned about their child.