8.12 Criminal and sexual exploitation including serious organised crime and gangs

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Please note this policy is under review following the publication of Working together to safeguard children, 2023.

 Last reviewed Feb 2023

Date of next review Feb 2025




The wider definition of exploitation involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where a person or persons receive ‘something’ (e.g., food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gifts, money, affection) because of them completing a task on behalf of another individual or groups of individuals. This is criminal and/or sexual exploitation and there can often be a crossover of the two.


Child criminal exploitation (CCE) or child sexual exploitation (CSE) often occurs without the child/young person’s immediate recognition, with the child/young person believing that they are in control of the situation. In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitation relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic/emotional vulnerability.


Organised crime, such as county lines, is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, human trafficking and missing persons. As such the lines often blur between individual elements of organised crime which can make it harder to spot the signs and know the best approach to tackle it.


This chapter summarises Ending gang violence and exploitation published by the Government in 2016, followed by Criminal Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County Lines guidance (published by the Home Office in 2018).  This non-statutory guidance was updated considering the more recent publications in December 2020.

This guidance is primarily aimed at frontline staff who work with children, young people – up to the age of 25. This includes professionals working in children’s social care, education, health, housing, benefits, law enforcement (police) and related partner organisations.

It is intended to help them understand the nature of the risks posed to children and young people related to gang activity, serious violence, criminal exploitation, modern slavery and human trafficking. This includes participation in and as victims of gang violence, how signs of gang involvement may manifest themselves and how to deal with such issues.


This chapter is supplementary to:


The United Nations, for statistical purposes, defines persons between the ages of 15 and 24 as young people.



Child sexual exploitation:

 The Department for Education defines child sexual exploitation as, “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”.

 The above definition appears in the Department for Education’s guidance Child sexual exploitation: Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation (February 2017).


There is often a presumption that children/young people are sexually exploited by people they do not know. However, evidence shows that this is often not the case and children/young people are often sexually exploited by people with whom they feel they have a relationship such as a partner or someone they perceive to be a peer. Most sexual exploitation is hidden from public view.


Child criminal exploitation:

 The Home Office defines child criminal exploitation as, “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. 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. Criminal exploitation of children is broader than just county lines, and includes for instance children forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft”.

 The above definition appears in the Home Office guidance Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County lines guidance (March 2018).


Child criminal exploitation recognises the concern that exists regarding children and young people who are used, through whatever means, to engage in criminal activity by other young people or adults who can coerce them to do so. The young people involved may not identify as being ‘exploited’ as such, but it is clearly to their detriment that they are involved in this type of activity. Children involved in criminal exploitation may not be coming to the attention of law enforcement agencies. Where children are involved in criminal exploitation through drug dealing, this is not just linked to county lines but may also be linked to local supply lines and criminal groups.


County lines:

 Criminal exploitation of children/young people is a geographically widespread form of harm that is a typical feature of county lines activity. It is a form of harm that was relatively unrecognised by those best placed to spot its potential victims until around 2014-15. County lines activity and the associated violence, drug-dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and communities.

County lines is a term used to describe organised crime groups (OCGs) involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines. They are likely to exploit children and young people to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.

See the following for more information  County Lines Toolkit For Professionals | The Children's Society (childrenssociety.org.uk)


Organised crime groups (OCGs) / ‘gangs’:

Being part of a friendship group is a normal element of growing up and it can be common for groups of children and young people to gather in public places to socialise. Although some group gatherings can lead to increased anti-social behaviour and youth offending, these activities should not be confused with the serious violence of an OCG/gang.


A gang is defined as a “relatively durable group who have a collective identity and meet frequently. They are predominantly street-based 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 groups’ identity”.

The Pyramid of Gang Involvement (Hallsworth & Young, 2004) sets out a tiered approach to defining gangs. This definition and diagram can be found on page 13 of the 2010 guidance.


An Organised Crime Group (OCG) is defined in S.45(6) of Serious Crime Act 2015 as a group which has as its purpose, or one of its purposes, the carrying on of criminal activities; and consists of three or more people to act together for that purpose. It is not necessary for the individual participating in the OCGs activities to know any of the group members (S.45(7)). It is important for practitioners to recognise that ‘gang’ activity is essentially organised crime.


This guidance focuses on safeguarding those children and young people at Level 2, i.e., those on the cusp of/vulnerable to making the transition to OCG/gang involvement as well as those already involved in OCGs/gangs.


At the top level (Level 3) are organised criminal gangs, traditionally composed principally of adult men. At the bottom level (Level 1) are peer groups.


Overall, children and young people are particularly vulnerable to suffering harm in the context of OCGs/gangs are potentially:

  1. Not involved in OCGs/gangs, but living in an area where OCGs/gangs are active, which can have a negative impact on their ability to be safe, healthy, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution to society and achieve economic well-being;
  2. Not involved in OCGs/gangs, but at risk of becoming victims of OCGs/gangs;
  3. Not involved in OCGs/gangs but at risk of becoming drawn in, for example, siblings or children of known OCG/gang members; or
  4. OCG/Gang-involved and at risk of harm through their OCG/gang-related activities (e.g. drug supply, weapon use, sexual exploitation and risk of attack from own or rival OCG/gang members).

A person may be both a victim and perpetrator/offender. When assessments and interventions by service providers treat a child as just a victim or just an offender, they are not considering the complex, cyclical nature of the victim-offender link and the factors that influence child / young people’s lives. Statutory understanding of the coercion and grooming tactics of OCGs/gangs has increased considerably since the Government published Safeguarding Children and Young People Who May Be Affected by Gang Activity in 2010. This includes a greater understanding of peer-on-peer abuse and how to adopt a contextual safeguarding approach to understand and respond to peer-on-peer abuse.


Adultification bias:

Adultification bias is a form of racial prejudice where children/young people from diverse or minoritized communities are treated as more mature than they are by a reasonable social standard of development. An example of how this plays out is that a Black child has reported to be treated unfairly such as their true ages disbelieved when they told authority figures and facing consequences for misbehaviour while white young people would have their young ages considered.

'Where are the Black girls in our CSA services, studies and statistics?' | Community Care

Safeguarding Black girls from child sexual abuse: messages from research - Childrens (ccinform.co.uk)


Contextual safeguarding against extra-familial harm:

Contextual safeguarding is an approach to understanding and responding to young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people have in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

Therefore, children’s social care practitioners, child protection systems and wider safeguarding partnerships need to engage with individuals and sectors who do have influence over/within extra-familial contexts, and recognise that assessment of, and intervention with, these spaces are a critical part of safeguarding practices. Contextual safeguarding therefore expands the objectives of child protection systems in recognition that young people are vulnerable to abuse beyond their front doors.

What is Contextual Safeguarding? (csnetwork.org.uk)



The concept of intersectionality describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects.  For example, someone may experience racism, sexism and ageism collectively or individually at different times and in different environments.

 Listen Up Research have produced an Intersectionality infographic to consider an example of intersectionality in more detail.

You can read more infomation here Intersectionality: race, gender and other aspects of identity in social work with young people - Community Care



Under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 young people under the age of 18 are deemed to be children and would be considered Children in Need if being exploited.


Children involved in any form of exploitation should be treated primarily as the victims of abuse and their needs carefully assessed; the aim should be to protect them from further harm and they should not be treated as criminals. The primary law enforcement response should be directed at perpetrators who groom children for exploitation.


Due to the nature of the grooming methods used by their abusers, it is very common for children and young people who are exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Practitioners should be aware that children may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily and will need practitioners to work with them so they can recognise that they are being exploited.


Preventing child abuse requires a collaborative response and is a shared responsibility. All children thought to be exploited will be the subject of a joint investigation and there is a need for effective joint working between all agencies and professionals.


The prevention of exploitation and intervention with children thought to be at risk of exploitation will be treated with equal importance.


As much as possible it is important that the child is involved in decisions that are made in respect of them.

Legal Position


Children under the age of 16 cannot lawfully consent to sexual activity.  Anyone engaging in sexual activity with a child under 16 is committing a criminal offence.  Specific serious offences, including rape, apply to anyone engaging in sexual activity with a child under the age of 13 as the child is presumed incapable of consent.


Sections 47 - 50 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 make the following serious criminal offences:

  • Paying for a sexual act involving a child (under 18);
  • Causing or inciting sexual exploitation of a child;
  • Facilitating, buying, possessing or exchanging abusive images of children;
  • Trafficking a child into, out of or around the UK for the purpose of committing a sexual offence. These can even be from one street to the next;
  • Meeting a child following grooming (making contact with the purpose of facilitating a meeting);
  • Administering a substance in the knowledge that the victim does not consent with the intention of stupefying/overpowering so that sexual activity can take place;
  • Kidnapping with the intention of committing a sexual offence.

In exceptional circumstances the use of criminal action can be considered for 16 and 17 year olds involved in sexual exploitation, under the Street Offences Act 1959.


By the nature of criminal exploitation children and young people will be committing criminal offences. In working with the child where criminal explotation is identified work needs to take place to divert them from the criminal justice system, where appropriate use the  National Referral Mechanism referral form under the modern slavery law to divert and protect them. See also - 8.11 Child victims of modern slavery and trafficking | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual


  • To help the child understand the risks involved in certain activities;
  • To gather evidence and build a prosecution case against those involved in abusing the child;
  • To protect children from further abuse and support them to find ways out of exploitative situations and relationships.

What is the risk?


The national picture on county lines continues to develop, but there are recorded cases of:

  • Children as young as 12 years old being exploited or moved by gangs to courier drugs out of their local area. 15-16 years is the most common age range.
  • Both males and females are being exploited. It is important to note that the experience of girls who are criminally exploited can be very different to that of boys. The indicators may not be the same, however professionals should be aware that girls are at risk of criminal exploitation too. It is also important to note that both boys and girls being criminally exploited may be at higher risk of sexual exploitation.
  • White British children being targeted because gangs perceive they are more likely to evade police detection, but a person of any ethnicity or nationality may be exploited.
  • The use of social media to make initial contact with children and young people.
  • Class A drug users being targeted so that gangs can take over their homes (known as ‘cuckooing’).
  • Vulnerable young people, e.g., those with a learning disability or mental health needs, living alone, may be targeted.

County lines exploitation is widespread, with gangs from big cities including London, Liverpool and Manchester operating throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Gangs are known to target children and vulnerable adults; some of the factors that heighten a person’s vulnerability are summarised below:

  • Having prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse;
  • Lack of a stable/safe home environment, now or in the past (domestic violence or parental substance misuse, mental health issues or criminality, for example);
  • Social isolation or social difficulties*;
  • Economic vulnerability*;
  • Homelessness or insecure accommodation status;
  • Connections with other people involved in OCGs/gangs;
  • Having a physical or learning disability;
  • Having mental health or substance misuse issues;
  • Being in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories);
  • Being excluded from mainstream education attending a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU)/ Alternative Provision College (APC)*

Practitioners should consider the risks to young people involved in OCGs/gangs from violence and weapons, drugs, and sexual exploitation. Factors with an asterisk (*) indicate those with additional risk during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions.


Young people involved in OCGs/gangs are more likely to suffer harm themselves through retaliatory violence, displaced retaliation, territorial violence with other OCGs/gangs, or other harm suffered whilst committing a crime. Young people involved in OCGs/gangs are more likely to possess and use weapons, knives, and guns. Evidence shows that those carrying weapons are more likely to become victims of weapon attacks and the risk of being seriously injured increases in group situations. There is some evidence suggesting younger children carrying or using guns and girls and young women being used to carry guns on behalf of OCG/gang members.


OCGs/gangs use violence to assert their power and authority in a local area and may have to assert their power concerning other OCGs/gangs in the area. Therefore, so much OCG/gang-related crime and violence is perpetrated against other members of OCGs/gangs and their relatives and rarely against the police or other public sector employees. In some cases, violence may also be directed against, or required of, an OCGs/gangs’ own member as a part of belonging to that group.


Child criminal exploitation (CCE) is broader than just county lines and includes for instance, children forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft.  See also, 8.11 Child victims of modern slavery and trafficking | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual



Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, county lines exploitation:

  • Can affect any child (regardless of gender) under the age of 18 years;
  • Can still be exploitative even if the activity appears consensual;
  • Can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people in groups; and
  • Is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

One of the key factors found in most cases of county lines exploitation is some form of exchange (e.g., carrying drugs in return for something). Where it is the victim who is offered, promised or given something they need or want, the exchange can include both tangible (such as money, drugs or clothes) and intangible rewards (such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection). It is important to remember the unequal power dynamic within which this exchange occurs and to remember that the receipt of something by a child or vulnerable adult does not make them any less of a victim. It is also important to note that the prevention of something negative can also fulfil the requirement for exchange, for example, a child who engages in county lines activity to stop someone carrying out a threat to harm their family.


According to Female Voice in Violence, there has been an increase in female members in OCGs/gangs. There is often pressure for girls associated with young boys in OCGs/gangs to ‘link’ with OCG/gang members to attain status, for their own protection and perhaps to benefit from a criminal lifestyle. Some girls adopt an antagonist role within OCGs/gangs to maintain status by ‘linking’ with opposing gang members, or with more than one boy within their own group which can lead to conflict between gangs or inter-gang conflict.”

Safeguarding principles should be a priority for girls who are sexually exploited and abused, which can be a particular risk for girls associated with or targeted by OCG/gang member. It may also affect male OCG/gang members. The risk of sexual exploitation and abuse has been highlighted in some local areas and should always be considered as a risk when assessing individuals and when developing a local profile of OCGs/gangs. For example, rape by OCG/gang members, as a form of retaliation or as an act of violence, is said to occur quite frequently in some areas and reports to the police are rare due to fear of intimidation or reprisal. This may also be a risk for siblings and other family members of female OCG/gang members.


Some children and young people are at risk of exposure to or involvement with groups or individuals who condone violence to a political end. Children and young people vulnerable to exploitation may also be vulnerable to some form of radicalisation including far right and Islamist extremism. There is increasing evidence that individuals are adopting elements from a range of extremist ideologies with conspiracy theories and misogyny. This is often referred to as ‘incel’ which describes a growing online subculture of predominantly men or boys who define themselves as unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. Incel refers to ‘Involuntary celibate’. This ideology was growing in popularity prior the COVID-19 pandemic however there are very real fears that this has been exacerbated due to the increasing amount of time that already socially isolated individuals with little stake in society have spent online during lockdown restrictions etc.

Violent extremist causes range from animal rights to far-right politics to international terrorism


Research has shown that victims of crime can become offenders because of their adverse experience. Retaliation and the need for respect can be factors in the progression from victim to offender; carrying a weapon following an attack can help a young person rebuild respect and offer a feeling of personal protection.

Practitioners should bear in mind when assessing either victims or perpetrators of the crime of the potential for young people to become involved in OCGs/gangs and OCG/gang-related violence due to being a victim of crime.


Increasingly county lines exploitation is considered a form of 8.11 Child victims of modern slavery and trafficking | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual


Sexual exploitation can take many forms from the seemingly 'consensual' relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking.


Sexual exploitation has strong links with other forms of 'crime', for example, domestic violence, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children and child trafficking. Many adults involved in sex work describe difficult childhood experiences that include domestic violenceneglect, emotional abuse, disrupted schooling and low educational attainment.


The perpetrators of exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target areas where children and young people gather without much adult supervision, e.g., parks or shopping centres or sites on the Internet.

Where a young person is identified as being exploited it should also be considered whether the young person is enslaved to the perpetrator.


Any form of exploitation results in children and young people suffering harm and causes significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for the child's family. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel alienated, and their self-esteem affected. Family members can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.


Children and young people are more vulnerable to abuse through exploitation if they have experience of:

  • Childhood sexual abuse;
  • Domestic abuse within the family;
  • Family breakdown;
  • Physical and emotional deprivation;
  • Bullying in or out of school;
  • Parents with high level of vulnerabilities (e.g., mental health issues, drug/alcohol misuse);
  • Being looked after in residential care;
  • Unsuitable/inappropriate accommodation/homelessness;
  • Frequently going missing;
  • Isolation from peers/social networks;
  • Lack of positive relationship with protective/nurturing adult.

Exploitation of children includes a combination of:

  • Pull factors: children performing tasks for others resulting in them gaining accommodation, food, gifts, status or a sense of safety, money or drugs; often the hook is through the perpetrator supplying Class B drugs such as cannabis to the child or young person;
  • Push factors: children escaping from situations where their needs are neglected and there is exposure to unsafe individuals, where there is high family conflict or the absence of a primary attachment figure;
  • Control: Brain washing, violence and threats of violence by those exploiting the child particularly when the child or young person is identified by the police, they are expected to take full responsibility for the offences for which they are charged – i.e., possession and supply of illegal substances.

Most children or young people who enter exploitation do so willingly however, their involvement is indicative of coercion or desperation rather than choice. Many young people do not recognise that they are being exploited or that they are at risk. Most children who are vulnerable to criminal exploitation are male however; the possibilities of female involvement should not be dismissed. While the majority of those experiencing sexual exploration are female. Perpetrators can often be involved in both criminal and sexual exploitation.


There are particular risk factors and triggers that young people experience in their lives that can lead to them becoming involved in OCGs/gangs. Many of these risk factors are like involvement in other harmful activities such as youth offending or violent extremism. 


Risk factors for a person becoming involved in gangs are illustrated in the assessment triangle on page 19 of the government guidance.

Risk assessment outside the family home (extra-familial harm and contextual safeguarding)


Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to,  children's experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that children form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse.

These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online. These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking; online abuse; teenage relationship abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation. Extremist groups make use of the internet to radicalise and recruit and to promote extremist materials. Any potential harmful effects to individuals identified as vulnerable to extremist ideologies or being drawn into terrorism should also be considered.

Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and children’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

Therefore, children’s social care practitioners need to engage with and recognise individuals, spaces and sectors who do have influence over the child, within extra-familial contexts, and recognise that assessment of, and intervention with, these spaces are a critical part of safeguarding practices.

Contextual Safeguarding, therefore, expands the objectives of child protection systems in recognition that children are vulnerable to abuse in a range of social contexts. Contextual Safeguarding Network Briefing

Recognition of the signs


A child's involvement in county lines activity often leaves signs. A person might exhibit some of these signs, either as a member or an associated of an OCG/gang dealing drugs. Any sudden changes in a person’s lifestyle should be discussed with them.


All agencies, parents and carers must be aware of the following indicative behaviours associated with a child who is experiencing exploitation; however, they are not conclusive signs in themselves:

  • Physical symptoms (Sexually Transmitted Infections, chronic fatigue, bruising suggesting assault, pregnancy and/or seeking a termination);
  • Truanting from school/disengagement from education;
  • Acquisition of money, possessions or accounts of social activity with no plausible explanation;
  • Expressions of despair (self-harm, overdose, eating disorder, challenging and/or volatile behaviour, aggression);
  • Drug and alcohol misuse;
  • Reports from reliable sources that a child is being sexually exploited or frequenting known areas of concern;
  • Relationship with a controlling adult/older 'boyfriend', who encourages emotional dependency and controls through violence or threats;
  • Having contact with unknown adults outside the usual range of child's social contacts;
  • Getting into/out of vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • An adult loitering outside home with the intention of meeting up with the child;
  • Use of mobile phones/emails/internet that causes concern;
  • Missing from home, or persistently leaving home or returning late without permission and no plausible explanation;
  • Returning from being missing looking well-cared for despite having no known base;
  • Contact with other young people known to be involved in sexual exploitation.

Some potential indicators of county lines involvement and exploitation are listed below, with those at the top of particular concern:

  • Persistently going missing from school or home and/or being found out of the area;
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes or mobile phones;
  • Excessive receipts of texts/phone calls and/or having multiple handsets;
  • Relationships with controlling/older individuals or groups;
  • Leaving home/care without explanation;
  • Suspicion of physical assault/unexplained injuries;
  • Parental/carer concerns;
  • Carrying weapons;
  • A significant decline in school results/performance;
  • OCG/gang association or isolation from peers or social networks;
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional wellbeing.

More information on the signs to look out for is available in the Home Office guidance Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: county lines


This is not an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide, amended as appropriate considering local knowledge of the risk factors in a particular area.



The Early Help Plan may be crucial in the early identification of children and young people who need additional support due to the risk of involvement in OCG/gang activity. Please refer to ‘What to do if you are concerned’ on pages 6-10 of the Government Guidance.


If you suspect that a child or young person is experiencing exploitation or they have made a disclosure to you, your organisation's child protection procedures must be followed and you should make a referral to Children's Social Care - see Making a Referrals Procedure.


A qualified and experienced social worker should lead the  Family Assessment (also referred to a Child and Family Assessment or Strengthening Families Assessment). As always, evidence and information sharing across all relevant agencies will be key. It may be appropriate for the social worker to be embedded in or work closely with a team that has access to ‘real-time’ OCG/gang intelligence to undertake a reliable assessment. Careful involvement of parents or carers is required as they may be a useful source of information to assess the risk of harm but may condone their child’s involvement in OCGs/gangs.


Children’s Social Care should involve professionals with specialist experience in exploitation as part of the assessment of the child/young person and in the Strategy Discussion. Where there is a concern regarding a child or young person’s level of risk of involvement in exploitation, professionals should consider using the exploitation risk assessment framework to determine a level of intervention.


Practitioners should be aware that children who are Looked After by the Local Authority (children in care) can be particularly vulnerable to becoming involved in gangs. There may be a need to review their Care Plan considering this information and provide additional support.


Where there is a risk to a child's life or the likelihood of Significant Harm, emergency action might be necessary to secure the immediate safety.


A Threat to Life Warning (previously known as Osman Warning) (a warning given following intelligence received about a threat to life) places a positive obligation on the authorities to take preventative measures to protect an individual whose life was at risk from the criminal acts of another individual. In the context of gangs, this may occur because of gang rivalry or because of an incident occurring within a child's own gang (for example, threatening to leave or refusing to commit an act of violence). Any Osman Warning should result in an automatic referral to Children’s Social Care, the initiation of a Strategy Discussion and consideration of the need for immediate safeguarding action unless to do so would place the child at greater risk. In these cases, the decision not to refer should be actively reviewed to allow a referral to Children’s Social Care to be made at an appropriate stage.


Children who have parents (or other close associates/family members) who are involved in gangs/organised crime groups are also at risk. This brings in to play potential collateral risks to these children if the parent (associate/family members) are issued a Threat to Life notice.


Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 places a statutory duty on designated First Responder Agencies such as local authorities to notify the Home Office (as Single Competent Authority) of all potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. For children, this means a referral to Children’s Social Care who will lead on safeguarding arrangements and submit an online report to the National Referral Mechanism referral form (NRM).  For people over the age of 18, it requires the consent of the adult potential victim.

Intervention and Support


Support and interventions should be proportionate, rational and based on the child’s needs identified during assessment. These will range from family-based/multi-agency interventions, youth inclusion projects, peer mentoring to initiating Care Proceedings.


Practitioners should consider their own safety whilst working with children and visiting a household. It may be appropriate to interview the child and the parents in a neutral setting. Information sharing about high-risk families and individuals (such as those carrying lethal weapons) should be considered across all agencies that might have contact with the individuals concerned.


Girls and young women who have been sexually abused or exploited by OCG/gang members must have access to appropriate support and counselling, in an environment where they feel safe and secure.


Agencies should recognise that there may be a strong relationship between the child and the coercer/abuser, and it may be difficult for the child to break this relationship


The particular circumstances of the child should be taken into account in developing the multi -agency response and the plan for services should be tailored to meet their specific needs, e.g. whether they are Looked After (in care) and/or preparing to leave care, not receiving a suitable education, often missing from home or care, may have been trafficked and/or may be affected by gang activity.


Support and interventions should be proportionate, rational and based on the child’s needs identified during assessment. These will range from family-based/multi-agency interventions, youth inclusion projects, peer mentoring to initiating Care Proceedings.


Practitioners should consider their own safety whilst working with young people and visiting a household. It may be appropriate to interview the child and the parents in a neutral setting. Information sharing about high-risk families and individuals (such as those carrying lethal weapons) should be considered across all agencies that might have contact with the individuals concerned.


Anyone aged 12 and over who has on at least two occasions in the past two years had a bladed article with them without good reason or lawful authority in England and Wales, on a school premises or on further education premises may be identified by the police for a Knife Crime Prevention Order (KCPO). The KCPO was introduced as part of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 in a bid to tackle serious violent crime.

 KCPO practitioners guidance (publishing.service.gov.uk)



An adult begging for money may be accompanied by a child (who may or may not be her/his own) whose role is to invoke public sympathy. A child may also beg alone or appear to be so doing.

It is not the activity itself, but rather the consequent risks that determine if a child protection response is required. Considerations should include age of the child, degree of adult supervision, time of day etc.

Activities such as 'penny for the guy', 'trick or treat' or carol singing are not normally regarded as begging if arrangements are age appropriate and effectively supervised.

It is the responsibility of the police to:

  • Deal with the offence of begging;
  • Establish the identity and address of any involved child;
  • Refer her/him to the Children's Social Care for the area in which s/he lives.

If there are immediate risks to the child, the referral must be made to the Children's Services where they are found.

The normal procedures described in chapters on  Making a referral  Section 47 Enquiries, Chapter 5, apply. A multi-agency Strategy Discussion and Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated if information available indicates that the begging:

  • Presents immediate risks to the child's safety; or
  • Indicates that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm.

Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators


Identifying, disrupting and prosecuting perpetrators are key parts of work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from exploitation.


While the police and criminal justice agencies lead on this, the support of all partners in gathering and recording information/evidence is vital. All those involved in caring for a child who is suspected to be at risk of exploitation should continually gather, record and share information, as appropriate, to this end. Parents and carers should be encouraged and supported to do so, ensuring that information is recorded in such a way that it can be used by the Crown Prosecution Service and accepted in Court.


Where a child wants and is able to be part of a prosecution, it is essential that they are supported through this process and after the prosecution has taken place. Many of the issues facing young victims and witnesses are addressed in a CPS 2006 Policy Document on Prosecuting Cases Involving Children and Young People as Victims and Witnesses.

The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme


The Child Sex Offender Review (CSOR) Disclosure Scheme is designed to provide members of the public with a formal mechanism to ask for disclosure about people they are concerned about, who have unsupervised access to children and may therefore pose a risk. This scheme builds on existing, well established third-party disclosures that operate under the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).


Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child (usually parents, carers or guardians) if they think it is in the child’s interests.


The scheme has been operating in all 43 Police areas in England and Wales since 2010. The scheme is managed by the Police and information can only be accessed through direct application to them.


If the person is unwilling to sign the undertaking, the police must consider whether the disclosure should still take place.


If a disclosure is made, the information must be kept confidential and only used to keep the child in question safe. Legal action may be taken if confidentiality is breached. A disclosure is delivered in person (as opposed to in writing) with the following warning:

  • That the information must only be used for the purpose for which it has been shared i.e. in order to safeguard children;
  • The person to whom the disclosure is made will be asked to sign an undertaking that they agree that the information is confidential and they will not disclose this information further;
  • A warning should be given that legal proceedings could result if this confidentiality is breached. This should be explained to the person and they must sign the undertaking’ (Home Office, 2011, p16).
This page is correct as printed on Saturday 22nd of June 2024 10:19:45 PM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.