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Kids at this age can be particularly at risk of criminal exploitation. You can find some support below.

What Is Criminal Exploitation?

Criminal exploitation is child abuse where children and young people are manipulated and coerced into committing crimes.

What Is A Gang?

The word ‘gang’ means different things in different contexts, the government in their paper ‘Safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity’ distinguishes between peer groups, street gangs and organised criminal gangs.1

  • Peer group: A relatively small and transient social grouping which may or may not describe themselves as a gang depending on the context.
  • Street gang: “Groups of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identity.”
  • Organised criminal gangs: “A group of individuals for whom involvement in crime is for personal gain (financial or otherwise). For most crime is their 'occupation.”

It's not illegal for you to be in a gang – there are different types of ‘gangs’ and not every ‘gang’ is criminal or dangerous. However, gang membership can be linked to illegal activity, particularly organised criminal gangs involved in trafficking, drug dealing and violent crime.

What are County Lines?

County Lines is the police term for urban gangs exploiting young people into moving drugs from a hub, normally a large city, into other markets - suburban areas and market and coastal towns - using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”. Children as young as 12 years old have been exploited into carrying drugs for gangs. This can involve children being trafficked away from their home area, staying in accommodation and selling and manufacturing drugs. This can include:

  • Airbnb and short term private rental properties
  • Budget hotels
  • The home of a drug user, or other vulnerable person, that is taken over by a criminal gang- this may be referred to as cuckooing.

Spotting The Signs

There are some signs to look out for if you’re worried you or your child or young person has joined a gang or is being criminally exploited. It might be hard to spot at first, but the sooner you’re able to talk to someone the more you’ll be able to get the support you need.

  • Frequently absent from and doing badly in school.
  • Going missing from home, staying out late and travelling for unexplained reasons.
  • In a relationship or hanging out with someone older than them.
  • Being angry, aggressive or violent.
  • Being isolated or withdrawn.
  • Having unexplained money and buying new things.
  • Wearing clothes or accessories in gang colours or getting tattoos.
  • Using new slang words.
  • Spending more time on social media and being secretive about time online.
  • Making more calls or sending more texts, possibly on a new phone or phones.
  • Self-harming and feeling emotionally unwell.
  • Taking drugs and abusing alcohol.
  • Committing petty crimes like shop lifting or vandalism.
  • Unexplained injuries and refusing to seek medical help
  • Carrying weapons or having a dangerous breed of dog.

Watch this video to help you spot the signs 

Worried About A Child?

If you are worried that a child may be suffering significant harm, or if you are concerned that a child has suffered harm, neglect, or abuse, please follow the advice below.

Members of the public can:

Call 0345 140 0845 between 8am and 6pm (minicom 0151 934 4657).

Contact the emergency duty team on 0151 934 3555 for urgent advice outside of office hours (from 5.30pm Mon to Thurs, and 4pm Friday and weekends). If you think a child is in immediate danger, call for police assistance.

Support in Sefton

Exploiting a child into committing crimes in abusive. Children who are targeted can also be groomed, physically abused, emotionally abused, sexually exploited or trafficked. However, as children involved in gangs often commit crimes themselves, sometimes they aren’t seen as victims by adults and professionals, despite the harm they have experienced. It’s important to spot the signs and act quickly if you think you or a child is being groomed or is becoming involved with a gang. There is support available.

For all referrals specially relating to Child Exploitation please complete the Multi Agency Screening Tool. Here is a helpful guide  on  when to complete a screening. This is in addition to the child referral form and securely email to:

Last Updated on Friday, June 2, 2023

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