Toggle Contract

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

Child criminal exploitation (CCE) is a growing issue where children and young people are targeted by criminals and gangs to get them to engage in criminal activity, such as stealing or carrying drugs or weapons.

The child or young person might be abused or put into dangerous positions. This is sometimes known as county lines.

County lines is the term for urban gangs who supply drugs to suburban areas, market and coastal towns around the UK using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”. It involves child criminal exploitation (CCE) as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money. Gangs establish a base in the market location, typically by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

The Children’s Commissioner estimates that there are at least 46,000 children in England who are involved in gang activity. These children are often brought into exploitation through the process of threatening, tricking, or grooming.

Grooming involves building a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with the child or young person so that they can be taken advantage of and exploited. The forms of relationship a groomer can build includes romantic relationships, mentorships, and relationships can be built via social media, messaging apps, on games and apps, or in person. A groomer will often give the child or young person a lot of attention, gifts, and take them on trips/outings or holidays.

Children and young people who have been exploited should always be treated as victims rather than suspects.

How does it affect children and young people?

Just like any other form of abuse and exploitation, county lines and child criminal exploitation can:

  • Affect any child or young person under the age of 18 years;
  • Still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual or the child believes that they are a willing participant;
  • Involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance, which may be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • Be perpetrated by any individual or a group /gang, regardless of age or gender
  • Like all forms of abuse or exploitation it is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those are perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious power imbalance, a power imbalance can also result from other factors, such as; gender, cognitive ability, physical, strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

Find out how to spot the signs of child criminal exploitation (CCE) here.

Click here for more information and guidance on Criminal Exploitation and County Lines from the Home Office.

Click here for NSPCC’s information and guidance on grooming.


If you are concerned about a child, please contact Front Door For Families on 01273 290400, FrontDoorForFamilies@brighton-hove.gov.uk, or use their Online Referral Form.

If a child is in immediate danger,
you should contact the
police by calling 999.