To raise awareness of child exploitation and the warning signs, the multi-agency team in Warwickshire are focusing on a week of activity across social media, aiming to share advice on how to identify warning signs and ways in which people can report concerns.
Criminal exploitation of children involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people receive something (e.g. status, ‘protection’, food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, affection) as a result of them completing a task on behalf of another individual or a group of individuals which is of a criminal nature.
It often occurs without the child’s immediate recognition, with the child believing that they are in control of the situation. In all cases, those exploiting the child 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 and the exploitative relationship is characterised by the child’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social, economic or emotional vulnerability.
County lines criminals are targeting vulnerable young people in Warwickshire and are exploiting them by using them to deal drugs.
‘County lines’ is a term used to describe gangs transporting drugs from bigger cities into smaller towns and rural areas. This is a national problem involving gangs operating from cities including Birmingham, London, Manchester and Liverpool.
Children displaying vulnerabilities such as poverty, family breakdown, living in looked-after care, experiencing domestic abuse, substance misuse, behavioural or development disorders and exclusion from school are frequently targeted by county lines criminals. The children are attracted by and offered a sense of belonging, inclusion, status and money.
Signs to look out for in children and young people:
Frequent missing episodes – can be for up to weeks at a time
Children being found outside of their local area
Unexplained amounts of money, mobile phones, mobile credit, clothing, jewellery or other items.
Unexplained absences from school, or not engaged in education, training or work
Changes in behaviour and emotional wellbeing – increasingly disruptive, hostile or physically aggressive
Possession of multiple mobile phones or sims or use of a phone that causes concern – multiple callers at all hours or multiple texts/messages (more than usual)
Increasing use of or substance and alcohol misuse
New peer group/s and spending time with older people
Possession of weapons
Warwickshire Police launched their Protect campaign in 2018, which seeks to tackle serious and organised crime (SOC), including county lines, and the harm it causes in our children and our communities.
The broad-ranging campaign comprises four key areas of activity:
- Pursue - prosecuting and disrupting those involved in SOC - Prevent - stopping individuals from becoming involved in SOC - Protect - increased levels of protection against SOC - Prepare - reducing the impact of SOC where it occurs