Gangs, Criminal Exploitation & County Lines

Child criminal exploitation

Child criminal exploitation (CCE) 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 any criminal activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants and/or for the financial or other advantage of the perpetrator or facilitator and/or through violence or the threat of violence. 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” (Home Office, 2018).

County Lines

County lines is a term used when drug gangs from big cities expand their operations to smaller towns, often using violence to drive out local dealers and exploiting children and vulnerable people to sell drugs. These dealers will use a dedicated mobile phone line(s), known as 'deal lines', to take orders from drug users. Heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine are the most common drugs being supplied and ordered. In most instances, the users or customers will live in a different area to where the dealers and networks are based, so drug runners are needed to transport the drugs and collect payment. Currently there is no legal definition of county lines or CCE and no government directive/legislation around how it should be addressed, epitomising the difficulties. (Home Office, 2018).

Click here to watch a 10 min clip from the National County Lines Coordination Centre.

National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

This 6 min clip focuses on the NRM, including the process, when to apply and how decisions are made. The NRM framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support.

Who to contact?

Suffolk County Council

Suffolk County Council – Children’s Services

Suffolk County Council provide a range of services for children and families. On this page you can access services such as Early Help via a Common Assessment Framework, and the Emotional Wellbeing Hub. If you have any safeguarding concerns, you can report it here.

Diversion Programme – Suffolk Youth Justice Service

This voluntary programme is designed to offer help and support to young people who are at risk of offending and anti-social behaviour. Suffolk Youth Justice Service offer a programme of work, which is created in collaboration with the young person (and their families). A plan is created with the aim of reducing the likelihood of offending or re-offending. Referrals are accepted from Children and Young People's Services; educational establishments; the police and parents / carers. All referrals are then assessed to see if they meet the criteria for further intervention work with the youth justice service.

Suffolk Police

This page contains information and advice for young people about gang / county lines:

Gangs / County Lines – Information and Advice - Suffolk Constabulary

Schools Intelligence Reporting Tool for County Lines and Criminal Exploitation

Velocity is a countywide operation to tackle drug dealing.

Velocity Leaflet County Lines Briefing for Partners

Youth Justice Board County Lines Pathfinder Programme

The Youth Justice Board works to support frontline service improve through pilots where learning can be disseminated to other parts of the system. 

Youth Justice Board Pathfinder - Tackling County Lines

County Lines Pathfinder News - Issue 1

Suffolk Response Teams

Suffolk's works to tackle the problem of Gangs and County Lines through a multi-agency approach and plan. If you have any questions on our work, please contact

Multi-Agency Criminal Exploitation Panels (MACE) and Vulnerability Assessment Tracker (VAT)

Concerns regarding exploitation continue to feature for many individuals. To further support our approach to addressing these concerns, Suffolk has now implemented a Vulnerability Assessment Tracker (VAT) that will be managed by CYPS but contributed to by all partners.  The VAT will be used to score and monitor vulnerabilities to assist us in understanding our landscape and to identify themes and patterns.

Alongside the VAT, we have recently commenced hosting Multi-Agency Criminal Exploitation Panels, known as MACE.  MACE panels will be held across Suffolk monthly in Lowestoft, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds, chaired by the Safeguarding Managers and attended by partners who can support the disruption of criminal activity and safeguard young people and vulnerable adults (up to the age of 24). No one agency or team alone can support an individual who is being exploited therefore partner agencies are collaborating on this venture.

The VAT and MACE are new systems which are designed to work alongside processes which are already in place. So, if you have a case where there is evidence of grooming or exploitation please make a referral using this MACE Referral Form – but also do what you normally do – refer to MASH or Customer First, so that the pre-existing checks and assessments can be carried out.

Once we have received your MACE referral, we will get in touch with you to begin the process of entering the person onto the VAT and presenting them to MACE if appropriate. For further information please contact

Criminal Exploitation Hubs

The Criminal Exploitation (CE) Hubs are a new initiative, building on the success of the Suffolk Against Gangs and Exploitation Team. Working with key partners, voluntary groups, communities, children, and families to support, disrupt, protect, and empower children and communities from the risk of criminal exploitation in hot spot locations.

Locations will be identified through police and community led intelligence, and the Multi-Agency Criminal Exploitation Panels (MACE).

There will be two teams one based in the South and one in the West of the county; and we can offer consultations county wide. The teams will adopt a targeted outreach approach to work with children, families, and communities, supporting the work of those already working in the community and partner agencies.

We want to:

  • Build stronger links with our communities and community groups to help identify, support, and protect communities from the risk of criminal exploitation in hotspot areas.
  • Help to develop understanding, skills, and expertise of criminal exploitation.
  • Help to increase self-belief in children and young people who are at risk or have been criminally exploited.

If you have concerns around a location or would like to have a consultation with someone from the CE Hubs please complete the professionals form and send to:

Key documents

Appropriate Language Toolkit

A short document for professionals to use at meetings or other settings when discussing children and young people who are at risk of exploitation.

Capturing and Reporting Intelligence: Child sexual and / or criminal exploitation. Guidance for families, professionals, and the community

This guidance document is designed for families, professionals and the community to help them understand what intelligence is and how it can be reported.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel - It was hard to escape - report

A review from the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel that highlights the learning from incidents where children were seriously harmed or killed.

County Lines Exploitation Practice guidance for YOTs and frontline practitioners

The County Lines Exploitation Practice guidance for YOTS and frontline practitioners provides clear referral pathways for frontline practitioners to follow nationally and use as a best practice template, when responding to, and safeguarding children involved in county lines.

Home Office – Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

The Serious Violence Strategy sets out the government’s response to serious violence.

Disruption Toolkits

Child exploitation disruption toolkit

NWG Disruption Toolkit v3-1

Disruption can help disincentivise the use of children and vulnerable adults in drug supply.

Disruption toolkits set out the various powers and tactics that can be used by a range of agencies to disrupt exploitation.

Helpful resources for professionals

Contextual Safeguarding Network

This site provides access to research, resources, and briefings for professionals concerned about extra- familial harm.

County Lines Partner Pack

This contains downloadable images, posters, booklets and social media resources focused on:

  • Frontline staff
  • Bus and coach company staff
  • Train and rail operator staff
  • Taxi and private vehicle hire staff
  • Letting agents and landlords
  • Private security industry staff
  • Posters for social housing staff
  • Social media graphics

Fearless for Professionals

This page contains resources that professionals can use with young people. 

Slang Dictionary

This slang dictionary seeks to support parents, carers and professionals to better understand the language young people may be using and support them to safeguard young people.

Children's Society - Criminal Exploitation: Stages of Recruitment CaRE

A short informative document highlighting the different stages of exploitation:

  • Targeting stage
  • Experience stage
  • Hooked stage
  • Trapped stage

Helpful publications

Contextual Safeguarding Network - Contextual Safeguarding and County Lines Briefing

This briefing will:

  • Map the emergence of ‘county lines’ as a child welfare issue.
  • Introduce the four domains of Contextual Safeguarding.
  • Outline how a Contextual Safeguarding approach to assessment, planning, intervention and outcome measurement could offer an alternative response to young people who are affected by ‘county lines’.
  • Undertake all of the above from an ecological, child welfare and participatory perspective.

A systematic map and synthesis review of Child Criminal Exploitation

This rapid review assesses what is known in the literature about child criminal exploitation, in relation to early identification of children vulnerable to CCE and key messages or an effective service response for children involved or at risk of becoming involved in CCE. 

St Giles Trust - Kent County Lines Update Report, Jan 2019

Evaluation of the Home Office funded county lines project in Kent to test out what helps vulnerable children move away from involvement in county lines drug distribution networks.

Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC) Guide - Child Criminal Exploitation

This guide will assist criminal practitioners representing children who have been exploited and are charged with offences arising out of that exploitation.

Responding to Youth Violence Through Youth Work 2019 (

This report explores and highlights the need for youth work as one of the responses to youth violence.

Preventing gang and youth violence: A review of risk and protective factors - Early Intervention Foundation (

This report asks which risk and protective factors practitioners working with children and young adults should look out for when assessing the likelihood of young people becoming involved in youth violence and gangs.

Preventing gang and youth violence: Spotting signals of risk and supporting children and young people - Early Intervention Foundation (

This report provides a summary of key findings from two studies into the evidence base on early intervention to prevent gang and youth violence.

What works to prevent gang involvement, youth violence and crime: A rapid review of interventions delivered in the UK and abroad - Early Intervention Foundation (

This report provides a brief overview of the international literature on effective and ineffective approaches aiming to prevent gang involvement and youth violence.

Preventing the violent and sexual victimisation of vulnerable gang-involved and gang-affected children and young people in Ipswich

There's research about Youth Gangs and Violence in Suffolk. The University of Suffolk and Public Health worked with us to find out about gang activity in Suffolk. This research helps to identify the size of the problem and how to prevent it, intervene and enforce the law to stop the trafficking.

Suffolk Evaluations

Suffolk Against Gang Exploitation (SAGE) Team Evaluation Report

The Suffolk Office of Data and Analytics undertook an evaluation of the SAGE team.


Suffolk Pathfinder Programme

Cultural competence


There is a vast body of research that explores cultural competence for practitioners working with children and families. Increasingly, cultural competence is cited as helpful when working with children who are criminally exploited, and this sparked our interest in this area. There is however limited research regarding what makes a practitioner culturally competent in this field. This leads us to draw on learning from other areas as a starting point. We have considered child criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse across a range of disciplines including social work, psychology, and youth work.  We have pulled the main themes from these areas together and split them into knowledge, skills, and values to make it easy to digest. We have gathered the reflections of professionals to ensure the literature reflects what is happening in the field. We have also discussed the skills, knowledge and values children and caregivers’ find important in a practitioner.

Cultural Competence March 2022 & Reflective Questions

Reflective Questions

Parent webinar


The Pathfinder worked with parents with lived experience to co-produce a webinar based on what they told us they wish they had known at the start of their child’s exploitation. The webinar is approximately one hour and covers:

  • What is child criminal exploitation and how county lines operate
  • The methods that can be used to groom children
  • What to do if your child goes missing
  • The words of parents with lived experience, sharing the changes they noticed in their child and advice for parents who may be experiencing exploitation.
  • Steps a parent can take (including capturing intelligence / evidence)
  • How to work with Services
  • Looking after yourself, family, and home.
  • Further information / signposting


  • Practitioners should read the accompanying paper (parent briefing) below.
  • Practitioners should have a good understanding of criminal exploitation (see Pathfinder Resources on Youth Justice Board Resource Hub)
  • Ideally, a practitioner would run through the webinar with a parent / caregiver, allowing for natural breaks to discuss relevant points.
  • If this is not able to happen, the practitioner will need to share the link with the parent / caregiver and ensure that they have appropriate internet access and a suitable device. We would recommend that the parent takes breaks as the webinar contains a lot of information. The parent may need some support to access the webinar. The practitioner should follow up sharing the link to check in whether there are any questions / comments.

Child Criminal Exploitation

 FLATS and groupwork risk assessment and plan


  • The Families Learning About Thinking Skills programme (FLATS) was developed in Suffolk by a Clinical Psychologist, and informed by

the existing evidence base, in addition to clinical judgement, knowledge and experience.

  • FLATS was originally developed for use with young people at risk of exploitation from local gangs and has been adapted for use with young people potentially affected by criminal exploitation, including through ‘county lines’, and is informed by a range of established psychotherapeutic approaches and designed to target the needs and difficulties underlying young people’s risks and needs.
  • FLATS is an intensive intervention programme, run over 16-weeks, and comprised of: weekly 2-hour group sessions for young people, weekly 1hr 1:1 sessions for young people, access to facilitators outside of these sessions (e.g., through WhatsApp) for support with applying skills in ‘real life’ situations. Additionally, there is a strong family component to the programme, and facilitators provide on-going practical and emotional support to caregivers, to address their own needs and any blocks or barriers which might prevent them from supporting their child.

In order to support bring children together safely, the Pathfinder created a risk assessment and plan. This can be adapted for other group based interventions.

If you are interested in running FLATS, please speak with your team Operational Manager or Catherine Bennett.

 FLATS Risk Ass and Plan FINAL

Emerging and promising practice


The Pathfinder undertook a rapid review of the literature in terms of seeking to establish what good practice would look like, when working with children who are experiencing exploitation.

This paper summarises a number of approaches and learning from research, serious case reviews and evaluations. We sought to pull out the main practice points in these documents to create an easy-to-read resource that would be helpful to practitioners and managers.

We reached out to a small number of professionals to act a as ‘critical friends’ to provide feedback on the paper

Direct Practice Briefing Paper

Safe exit


The Pathfinder undertook a rapid review of the literature in terms of seeking to establish what good practice would look like, to support children and their families to exit safely.

This paper summarises a number of themes from research and evaluations from over 50 papers. We sought to pull out the main practice points in these documents to create an easy-to-read resource that would be helpful to practitioners and managers.

This briefing paper can be used to:

  • Raise awareness for professionals who are new to this area of practice.
  • Provide a helpful refresher to more experienced professionals.
  • Consider the learning and reflect on individual children and families.

 Safe Exit Paper

Safety Planning


County Lines present a significant risk to children experiencing exploitation. Exiting a line can increase the risk of harm to a child and their family. The Safety Planning product is designed to help you consider: 

  • Trauma within the context of safety planning for children
  • Principles and skills required to approach this area of practice

There is also an additional resource that contains tactics, and this is hosted on a secure Microsoft Teams (MS) Page that requires permission to access it. This is so we protect the tactics we have identified and ensure the tool is used as intended. If you are undertaking safety planning, please discuss the child and their family’s situation with your manager.

Safety Planning Practitioners

Should you need further information, please contact: