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Child Exploitation

All agencies across Swindon are fully committed to safeguarding children from being sexually or criminally exploited, whilst disrupting and prosecuting individuals who exploit or attempt to exploit them.  We will be referring to all under 18’s as children as this helps us focus on who is responsible for safeguarding children, as children cannot be responsible for their own abuse.

What is Child Exploitation?

Child Exploitation or CE is a term, which encompasses all the ways by which children can be exploited. It includes Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and also Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE). The criminal exploitation of children is an issue and is closely related to County Lines and Local Lines, and other ways children are drawn into drugs related criminal activity.


Child Sexual Exploitation or 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 (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 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 Criminal Exploitation (CCE). Child Criminal Exploitation is common in county lines and local 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. 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.


The Children’s Society have defined this as ‘When someone you trusted makes you commit crimes for their benefit’ (Counting Lives, 2019)

Child exploitation is a hidden issue, Practitioners often do not identify it and young people themselves frequently do not recognise themselves as the abused.  It can be difficult to get an accurate picture of the risk of exploitation.

What is County Lines?

County lines is a term used to describe gangs, groups or drug networks that supply drugs from urban to suburban areas across the country, including market and coastal towns, using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines’. They exploit children and vulnerable adults to move the drugs and money to and from the urban area, and to store the drugs in local markets. They will often use intimidation, violence and weapons, including knives, corrosives and firearms.

County lines is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of Government departments, local government agencies and voluntary and community sector organisations. County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.

What is Local Lines?

Local lines replicate the ‘County Lines’ model, but operate at a local level, within a community. This means it will be local adults or young people grooming and coercing other local children/young people/vulnerable adults into criminal activity. The operating model itself would be very similar in terms of chain of command, drug supply and associated criminal activity and behaviour.

Other forms of exploitation include cyber exploitation, radicalisation and trafficking & modern slavery. The SSP's Child Exploitation Strategy 2018 - 2020  sets out the way in which the partnership will GUARD against the risks of exploitation.  

Why do children become involved?

The common issues and reasons can be due to a number of factors, including vulnerabilities identified and being targeted by an abuser. Children who run away or go missing from home, care or education are recognised as being more at risk of being targeted as a victim of exploitation.

Evidence is clear that a missing child is believed to be at risk from Child Exploitation, irrespective of the length of time they are away from home or a caring environment (Plass, 2007; CEOP, 2011b).

It is often the case that children do not perceive themselves to be victims of exploitation, as they consider they have acted voluntarily. This is complicated further as the exploited children often receive cash or gifts by their abuser as a way to groom them.

The following are typical vulnerabilities in children prior to abuse:

  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance use, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, parental criminality)
  • History of abuse (including familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of ‘honour’-based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect)
  • Recent bereavement or loss
  • Gang association either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships (in cases of gang associated CE only)
  • Attending school with children who are exploited
  • Learning disabilities
  • Unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose sexual orientation to their families
  • Friends with children who are exploited
  • Homelessness
  • Lacking friends from the same age group
  • Living in a gang neighbourhood
  • Living in residential care
  • Living in a hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation, a foyer or homeless
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Young carer


The following signs and behaviour are generally seen in children who are already being exploited:

  • Regularly missing
  • Parents / Carer not reporting child missing
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Has extra money/new items/‘gifts’ that cannot legitimately be accounted for/received from unknown sources
  • Change in physical appearance or behaviour
  • Pregnancy, termination or repeat testing for sexually transmitted infections
  • Child has been coerced to take/share indecent images
  • Arrested/Involved in criminality
  • Found / travelling out of Borough
  • Multiple mobile phones
  • Child feels indebted to an individual or group
  • Family or child having to move or leave their home
  • Items missing from home
  • Child carrying/ concealing weapons
  • Absent from school / Non-school attendance
  • Services have not been able to engage with child
  • Self-harm indicators and/or mental health concerns and/or suicidal thoughts/attempts
  • Injuries – evidence of physical or sexual assault
  • Relationship breakdown with family and or peers
  • Association with older and/or risky peers
  • Change in education attendance/Change in education provider/Missing from education/ Non-attendance in education


Language, Labelling and use of Inappropriate Terms

The way we use language influences our thinking. Recent Serious Case Reviews in other areas have highlighted this as a significant issue which contributed to systemic failure to protect.

There are some labels which in the past have been used to describe children and their behaviour which led to inaccurate assumptions which in turn minimise the risks and reality of the child’s situation. Professionals should avoid using such terms in their recording and conversations and should be mindful of when they enter their thinking and challenge them.

For trust to develop and ensure that children feel supported to disclose their experiences, they need to be listened to and their experiences accepted & recorded.   ​The use of inappropriate language to describe children at risk of exploitation may judge the child and imply they could have acted differently or they are to blame.  It is important to remember that this is a form of abuse – it is not a ‘lifestyle choice’.  ​​

If we talk about a child using inappropriate language what they (and other professionals) may hear is that they are in some way responsible for what is happening to them and therefore less deserving of our support. 

Challenge any inappropriate language, labelling and terminology about children.

Watch this short video clip  to understand the impact on young people of victim blaming language.


A short guide for professionals of appropriate language when referring to CSE and/or CCE including suggested alternative is available here.

Underage Sexual Activity, CSE and Grooming - Know the Differences

Case reviews have found that there is confusion about sexual activity that can mean professionals struggle to distinguish between child abuse, grooming, CSE and/or underage sexual activity. This prevented concerns being identified and reported.  It is essential to be curious and inquisitive when you become aware of underage sexual activity as the child may view what’s happening as consensual, however, this does not mean that they are not being exploited.

Underage Sexual Activity Guidance

Underage Sexual Activity Briefing

Concerns about exploitation?

It is important ​that the Police and Children’s Social Care are made aware of any concerns or intelligence you have about child exploitation to enable them to build a bigger picture of any risks to children.  You may be aware of information that when considered in isolation may seem irrelevant but may be a key part of the jigsaw.  It is important that this intelligence is recorded on the child's file and shared with The Police / Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH).  

​If you have safeguarding concerns relating to a child contact the Police/MASH via or 01793 466903.​

If you have intelligence or any other concerns relating to Child Sexual Exploitation, Criminal Exploitation (gangs), trafficking (i.e. a suspicious car or activity) these can be shared with police please use  the online reporting form.

Identifying and disrupting perpetrators is a central part of multi-agency work to protect children from exploitation. The Swindon and Wiltshire CSE Disruption Toolkit sets out the deterrent and enforcement tools available and includes advice on how to share information and 'intelligence' with the police.

The National Working Group have also produced a Criminal, Civil and Partnership Disruption Options for Perpetrators of Child & Adult Victims of Exploitation

Policies, Procedures & Guidance 

Swindon Safeguarding Partnership promotes the South West Child Protection Procedures website as a source of information on a range of safeguarding issues. The pages can be accessed here.

The Opal Team (Child Exploitation and Missing Team) has developed the Child Exploitation Practitioners Resource. This has been developed to assist practitioners working with children who are at risk of, or who are being exploited.  Many of the resources and tools are applicable for all types of exploitation and to assist the professional response.

There is also a Child Exploitation Initial Screening Tool​ for professionals when working with children about whom they have concerns and to support decision making when making a referral.

Swindon's Multi-Agency Risk Panel provides a framework that allows for regular action planning and information sharing for children who are assessed to be at high risk. The risks might be due to episodes of going missing, sexual exploitation or criminal activity. The ethos of MARP is to quality assure the plans in place to keep the child safe, to review the risks in the cases and to focus on the prevention and pursuing of perpetrators in relation to exploitation of children. For more information see MARP Operating Protocol and Terms of Reference​


Training in Child Exploitation is available from the SSP and can be booked via the training pages of this website.  

Some Useful Resources and websites

Child Exploitation Practitioner Resource: contains useful information, links to websites and resources for professionals working with those at risk of or being exploited.

The NRM a Guide for Parents

The NRM a Guide for Parents translated documents; Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, French, Lithuanian, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tigrinya, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese

Home Office County Lines Guidance (2018):

Child Exploitation Disruption Toolkit Home Office:

Modern Slavery Helpline – NRM referrals -

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018)

Contextual Safeguarding Programme Website:

THINK U KNOW website – many resources that can be searched for by category and age.

Exploited Full Version. A CEOP educational resource:

Exposed. A short CEOP film about a girl who sends images of herself on her mobile phone:

Innocence. Short film from Barnardo's​ about a girl that is groomed by an older man:


Stages of Child Criminal Exploitation – The Children’s Society:


What is County Lines:

The NSPCC and Children's Society webpages provide useful information and resources.

NPSCC Child Trafficking:

National Working Group:

Stop & Prevent Adolescent Criminal Exploitation (SPACE):

Parents against child exploitation (Pace):

Children’s Society – Counting Lives report: