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Children at risk of exploitation includes information on child sexual exploitation, trafficking and county lines.

Child sexual exploitation (CSE)

CSE is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited, even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a crime with devastating and long lasting consequences for its victims and their families. The first response to children, and support for them to access help, must be the best it can be from social workers, police, health practitioners and others who work with children and their families.

In cases of suspected or actual child sexual exploitation, safeguarding procedures must be implemented and a referral made to social care in order to safeguard them from further or future harm. Further information is available from the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership safeguarding procedures.

Child criminal exploitation (CCE)

Child criminal exploitation (CCE) 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 into committing criminal activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. CCE does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

County lines

Information on a gang culture using children across county borders.

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. The criminal exploitation of children is, however, broader than just county lines. It also includes, for example, children forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft.

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 relatively little is known about or recognised by those best placed to spot its potential victims.

What it is:

  • organised crime based on a model of drug supply, violence and intimidation.


  • gang and gang organisation; often Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a factor
  • firearms, knives, corrosives - a feature used in intimidation
  • crossing county borders to source and recruit vulnerable young people to start and sustain supply chains
  • move and launder money from illicit means
  • targets the most vulnerable and disaffected youth; for example those missing or often out of school or education

What schools can do:

  • raise awareness for staff and to be alert
  • consider staff training
  • identify potential children
  • use safeguarding processes to report

No one really knows how many young people across the country are being forced to take part. Tragically, the young people exploited through 'county lines' can often be treated as criminals themselves.

The Children's Society has useful videos, tools and information to assist schools in developing their awareness.

Additional information and resources

The Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership has safeguarding procedures for children in specific circumstances.

GOV.UK has produced guidance for frontline professionals on dealing with county lines, which is part of the government's approach to ending gang violence and exploitation.

Useful information on county lines can also be found on the Safer Derbyshire website.

There is also a free criminal exploitation and county lines e-learning course, the details of which can be found through the Safer Derbyshire website.

There are similarities between these different forms of exploitation, and the criminal and sexual exploitation of children may overlap. Victims of child exploitation may, at any one time, be subject to both criminal and sexual exploitation and they are identified in a number of models such as:

  • child sexual exploitation (CSE)
  • criminal exploitation, including county lines
  • modern slavery
  • extremism and radicalisation
  • internet based exploitation - contact and non-contact offences, including Youth Produced Sexual Imagery (sexting)
  • female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • honour based abuse and violence
  • forced marriage
  • serious violence, including gang violence
  • financial exploitation
  • exploitation of an individual’s home and life due to taking advantage of mental health issues or disabilities (cuckooing)
  • children missing from home, care or education.

The ‘Keeping Kids Safe’ report investigates what it means to be a child gang member in England.

It estimates how many children in England are in gangs, and looks at the risk factors which make it more likely for a child to end up being groomed for gang membership. The ‘Keeping Kids Safe’ report highlights that the way vulnerable children are treated by the state will have a big impact on the likelihood of them entering a gang. Excluding children from school, off-rolling them, turning them away from CAMHS, and failing to diagnose and treat special educational needs all exacerbate children’s risks.

The Children’s Society has useful videos, tools and information to assist schools in developing awareness.

The Counting Lives research identified the following key messages:

  • Any child can be vulnerable to child criminal exploitation but there are some factors that make children more vulnerable
  • Local safeguarding agencies have not yet positioned themselves well to safeguard children targeted for CCE
  • Children are often not yet seen or treated as victims; they are more likely to be treated as perpetrators
  • Only 1 in 3 local authorities have a local strategy in place on how to safeguard children from child criminal exploitation

The Children’s Society identify changes that are needed at both a national and local level:

  • National strategy
  • Changes in legislation to ensure children are seen and treated as victims
  • Better data collection to understand the scale
  • Local mapping
  • Creating local pathways for children to access support

More information on how Derby City and Derbyshire County Councils map children at risk of exploitation (CRE) pathways is available in our Safeguarding policies, guidance and protocols webpages.

Local strategy

There is a Derby and Derbyshire CRE Strategy to support local safeguarding procedures, which has a chapter on responding to CRE as a practitioner.

Operation Liberty has also been updated by Derbyshire police to gather intelligence items, crimes and referrals, where there is an aspect of both child sexual exploitation and/or all forms of exploitation. Practitioners can use the Derby and Derbyshire CRE Operation Liberty form to provide details, however brief, of any concerns:

  • Adults who may pose a risk to, or target, groom or exploit children and young people
  • When you are aware that a child or young person has been groomed and or exploited
  • To provide information on places, locations and circumstances where you believe CRE may be taking place

The form can be found in the document library of the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership website.

Derbyshire practitioners use a CRE toolkit to assess a child or young person’s level of risk of sexual exploitation in a quick and consistent manner. This has now been updated and revised to include all forms of possible exploitation, and renamed the CRE toolkit and covers all children and young people under the age of 18 (Children Act 1989) residing in Derbyshire.

The toolkit supports the implementation of the local Safeguarding Children Partnership procedures; in particular children abused through sexual exploitation, criminal gangs or slavery, and safeguarding children who may have been trafficked and children and families who go missing.

This toolkit will support agencies to:

  • identify and protect those at risk of being exploited at the earliest opportunity
  • take action to promote the welfare of children and young people who are being or may be exploited
  • develop local prevention strategies
  • take action against those intent on abusing and exploiting children and young people in this way

The toolkit should be used flexibly to take account of each child’s individuality, the uniqueness of their circumstances and the changes that may occur for them over time.

Children's Society Look Closer Campaign

Look Closer awareness is about focusing on how public spaces like bus and train stations, fast food outlets, roadside services and hotels may be places where young victims of exploitation could be visible.

Why #LookCloser? 

We know that public transport such as trams, coaches, trains and buses are used to facilitate the movement of a young person when they are being exploited; that fast food outlets and roadside services may be used for amenities and food stops, and hotels may be places where exploitation is occurring ‘behind closed doors’.

For each child or young person who is being exploited, there will be different members of the public and staff working in the service industry who may see them and be in a position to protect them. However, they may be unaware of the signs that this person may be being exploited and need help. The Children's Society website has more information about the 'Look Closer' campaign.

Further resources available to schools and colleges:

The Children's Society has produced the Appropriate language: guidance for professionals document to be used when discussing the exploitation of children and young people.

St Giles Trust is a charity, which uses expertise and real-life experiences to empower people who are not getting the help they need. People held back by poverty, exploited, abused, dealing with addiction or mental health problems, caught up in crime or a combination of these issues and others.

Responding to child sexual abuse and exploitation in the night-time economy - A publication from the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse.

Consent – Cup of Tea an understanding of what consent means.

The NSPCC has a number of suitable resources to help raise awareness. Let’s Talk PANTS is a primary school resource that teaches children important messages, like their body belongs to them and they should tell an adult if they're upset or worried.

Barnardo's Wud U? App - Teachers and care professionals may interact with young people who might be at risk of sexual exploitation. These professionals might be interested in this award-winning smartphone app, designed to educate young people.

For Me: the Childline app - 'For Me' is the new app that puts Childline in your pocket. It's free, it's secure and it's designed by young people for young people.

Think you Know - The child exploitation and online protection centre has a wealth of information for all ages, parents and for those working with children - supporting all to deliver education and raise awareness of online child exploitation and abuse.

National Working Group - Helping stop child sexual exploitation and providing free web based services and resources for professionals.

CEOP - Child Exploitation and Online Protection.

Safer Internet UK - The UK Safer Internet Centre has online safety tips, advice and resources to help children and young people stay safe online.

Also see