See Something? Say Something! Child Criminal Exploitation Awareness

By: Angharad Davies, PhD student

In 2021 5,468 referrals were made to the National Referral Mechanism[1] regarding Child Exploitation in the UK. 2,689 of those were made in relation to Child Criminal Exploitation.

Home Office (2022)

On March 18th we joined in uniting against child criminal exploitation (CCE). The National Awareness Day was introduced to highlight the issues surrounding child exploitation; to adopt a zero tolerance towards child exploitation, and encourage everyone to think, spot and speak up against exploitation. By increasing awareness of CCE we will improve the chances of helping young people before them come into and whilst they are in the criminal justice system. Charities such as the National Working Group (NWG) and STOPCE are asked the public to show their support by using hashtags #HelpingHands and #CEADay22 (these can and should be used all year around).

What is Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)?

There is a lack of understanding about child criminal activity and thus an increase in awareness is vital for developing how we support young people vulnerable of exploitation. The government defines child criminal exploitation as:

Child criminal exploitation 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 criminal activity]. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child criminal exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. (Home Office, 2020)

CCE is broader than just county lines drugs dealing and child sexual exploitation, it can include forced labour, trafficking, false imprisonment, knife crime and other forms of violence (Home Office, 2018). Although the means of recruitment are similar, methods of exploitation are constantly evolving meaning this is a growing crime within the UK. CCE perpetration is not bound by age, gender or race – it happens in every city and every culture across the globe. Although differentiating between ordinary behaviour and signs of involvement in CCE is not easy there are some signs that may signify involvement in exploitation.

  • Change in friends
  • Change in appearance
  • Going missing during the day or at night
  • Going to new places
  • Spending more time online
  • Unexplained injuries
  • New and maladaptive coping mechanisms such as self-harm, alcohol or drugs
  • New, expensive unexplained belongings

Although the concept of CCE is not new, it is a rising concern (Baidawi, Sheehan, & Flynn, 2020), and despite increasing awareness, CCE continues to exist. The 2,689 referrals for CCE noted in the heading represents an increase of 20% since 2020 (Home Office, 2022[2]). The Children’s Society (2021) has identified a consistent increase in young people coming through and remaining in, through reoffending, the criminal justice system– for example, in 2019-20, 9,063 children and young people were arrested for drug or weapon offences and of these 15% (1,360) were first time offenders, mostly aged 10-14 years old –yet interventions, or even accepting that these are children first and foremost, are not consistent across the UK.

Contemporary society has begun to recognise and acknowledge the risk of harm to young people from exploitation and the need for new approaches (Research in Practice, 2020) to it. Over the past few years, work around CSE has encouraged understanding of the importance of a Child First approach, where we treat children-as-children rather than as smaller or younger criminals and we see them through the lens of their (potentially coerced) criminal behaviour. CSE has highlighted the need to improve and develop safeguarding responses for exploited children (Allnock, 2017). A new Child Criminal Exploitation Bill is currently going through the Houses of Parliament which will amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015[3] to include a legal definition of CCE and statutory training for professionals in how to respond to CCE[4]. This shows some of the concern that CCE is generating, and that it requires more attention.

So how do we measure the success and impact of work to end CCE?

Free image from Pexels

But, criminal legal provisions are not the only important way of judging success and impact in addressing CCE. Nationally, how success is measured is unclear and there is confusion amongst professionals. Success is difficult to measure; there are different success measures for separate domains of CCE – what measures of success we consider for primary, second and tertiary (community) victims; what measures of success we consider for the criminal justice system and multi-agency working (Olver & Cockbain, 2021), and what measures of success we consider for perpetrators are all different. Thus it is important to explore multiple areas of success and what it means to different agencies.

The research I am conducting for my PhD will help develop ways of evaluating the success of multi-agency work around CCE, working closely with a relatively new Police-located CCE multi-agency team. With CCE being a reasonably newly defined area nationally, with new teams being formed across the country, means that success measures and impact frameworks are yet to be established, hence the necessity for this current piece of research. I will develop an understanding of how the team perceives success and then add to this by developing a framework through which we can assess success and impact of the work to improve multi agency working and delivery better outcomes. The final phase of the research will be to observe this framework operating over a period of time to assess if the framework helps understand success and impact. So, this piece of research will provide new directions in how we perceive, prevent, intervene in and work with CCE.

If you are concerned that about a young person potentially being criminally exploited, please seek help through your local Constabulary or Children’s Safeguarding Team

If you are interested in working on these issues, Angharad’s supervisor is Dr Louise Livesey and is always happy to hear from potential research students (


Allnock, D. (2017). Policing Models and CSE. Bedfordshire: University of Bedfordshire.

Baidawi, S., Sheehan, R., & Flynn, C. (2020) “Criminal exploitation of child protection involved youthin Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 118.

Home Office. (2018). Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County lines guidance. Retrieved from

Home Office. (2020). Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: county lines. Retrieved from Gov.UK:

Office, H. (2022). Modern Slavery: National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify statistics UK, end of year summary, 2021. Retrieved from GOV.UK:

Olver, K., & Cockbain, E. (2021). Professionals’ Views on Responding to County Lines-Related Criminal Exploitation in the West Midlands, UK. Child Abuse Review , Volume 30, Issue 4.

Research in Practice. (2020). Safeguarding and exploitation- complex, contextual and holistic approaches. Research in practice,

The Children’s Society (2021) Rising tides of child exploitation. Retrieved from The Children’s Society:

[1] National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support.

[2] Modern Slavery: National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify statistics UK. Modern Slavery: National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify statistics UK, end of year summary, 2021 – GOV.UK (

[3] The Modern Slavery Act 2015 received royal assent on the 26th March 2015. It gives law enforcement the tools to fight modern slavery, ensures perpetrators receive suitable punishment and enhance support for victims.

[4] Parliamentary Bills. Child Criminal Exploitation Bill. The Bill originated in the House of Commons, Session 2021-22. The bill has completed a first reading with a second reading proposed for 6th May 2022. Child Criminal Exploitation Bill – Parliamentary Bills – UK Parliament

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