Child criminal exploitation

Information for parents, carers and professionals about how to spot the indicators of child criminal exploitation (CCE)

The information below is designed for use by child protection professionals but is also useful for parents and carers.

Children who are worried about this issue can contact ChildLine 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 08001111 or by visiting the Childline website.

If you are an adult who is worried that a child may be at risk of sexual exploitation, you can contact Cleveland Police on 101 or the Redcar and Cleveland Multi Agency Children's Hub (MACH) on 01642 130700.

Addressing child criminal exploitation is a key focus for Redcar and Cleveland and the local authority has a clear list of actions to help achieve this.  

Agencies work together to ensure that children and young people are protected from the risk of criminal exploitation and families whose lives are affected are supported.  

To support this, we work closely with partner agencies, schools and communities. The council supports children and young people who go missing because they are vulnerable and to ensure help is provided to reduce harm.

Perpetrators of criminal exploitation use violence and intimidation to frighten or force a child or young person, making them feel as if they've no choice. They may lend them large sums of money they know can't be repaid or use financial abuse to control them. Children and young people who are exploited may also be used to 'find' or coerce others to join groups.

Signs of criminal abuse and grooming

Knowing the signs of child criminal exploitation (CCE) can help protect children when they've no one else to turn to.  A child is unlikely to know they are being groomed or exploited and might not speak out. 

Any child can be groomed into exploitation, though some children may be more at risk. It is important to remember that warning signs will be presented differently for each child or young person being exploited. 

Teens might also behave in a way that could be seen as 'normal teenage behaviour', masking the exploitation. 

Signs that a child or young person is being groomed or exploited into criminal activity or county lines include:

Parental concerns / uncharacteristic behaviours

  • Withdrawal to bedroom all day / secrecy/ obsession about door being closed.
  • Withdrawal from normal activities and interests.
  • Sudden interest in rap/drill music.
  • Sudden interest in weights.
  • Increasingly lying / manipulative / argumentative / aggressive / angry.
  • Leaving home suddenly without explanation.
  • Obsession with designer labels.
  • Physically aggressive especially if met with obstacles or plans disrupted.
  • Rapid / extreme change in appearance – from smart to 'street'.
  • Rapid / extreme change in language – from well-spoken and respectful to coarse and offensive language.
  • Using coached responses such as 'right to remain silent' or 'no comment'.
  • Total denial of situation as it appears – despite evidence to contrary.
  • Significant decline in school results / performance / behaviour.
  • Obsession with postcodes and 'boundaries'.
  • Knowledge of areas with no legitimate links. 

Presence of unexplained items

  • Packets of (secreted) white substance.
  • Traces of white substance (kitchen surface / rolling pin).
  • Scrunched up cling film & foil.
  • Paracetamol sheets missing / running out quickly without explanation
  • Lighters / cigarettes / debit cards in unknown identities, explained as 'just found on road'.
  • Knife / mobile chargers / dongles / cash / mobile data cards (Lycamobile).
  • Notes with crime-orientated rap lyrics & street slang ('8 ways in, only 1 way out').
  • Notes with sexualised female identities (social media?).
  • After-shaves / perfumes / trainers / stationery items (gifted / stolen).
  • Condoms & Vaseline (plugging).
  • Train tickets
  • Balaclava (personal use or holding for others).

Items missing from home

  • Money
  • Old family mobiles and chargers.
  • Handbag shoulder chains.
  • Kitchen knives.​

Escalation indicators

  • Absence from school or disappearing during school.
  • Isolation from peers at school.
  • Total withdrawal & detachment from family.
  • Suddenly disinterest in seeing family/cousins - 'nothing in common'.
  • Sudden interest in parents' salary & mortgage payments.
  • Obsessively and repeatedly demanding (re mobile, 'need' to go out etc.).
  • Maintains 'story' despite lacking total credibility.
  • Not divulging where going, who with or how travelling.
  • Excessive receipt of unexplained texts / phone calls at all hours.
  • Unexplained use of Tor app on mobile.
  • Unexplained use of Uber app on mobile.
  • Suspected use of taxis.
  • Complete change / negative attitude towards Police / school / authority. From lack of eye-contact to bravado / squaring up / rudeness and aggression.
  • Total lack of empathy towards those lied to or stolen from.
  • Persistently going missing or being found out-of-area.
  • Being hugely anti-Police ('Feds').
  • Viewing family as enemy and associates as family.
  • Obliterating identifying information from train (season) ticket.
  • Deliberately avoiding having train ID card on person.
  • Using trains without paying fares / not using own travel cards.
  • Travel card used by others.
  • Debit card missing – used by associates for money laundering.
  • Cutting off name labels from uniform items.
  • Cutting off age labels.
  • Suspected misuse of drugs/alcohol, and smoking.
  • Involvement in crime.
  • Direct involvement with gang members.
  • Use of false identities, dates of birth, and addresses,
  • Inappropriate sexualised behaviour.
  • Involvement with older individuals / dropping friends from school.
  • Unexplained injuries and suspicion of physical assaults.
  • In cars in unexplained areas with unknown people ('hitch-hiking after party').
  • Obsession with winter hats and gloves, even in warmer months (identification and fingerprint evasion).
  • Wearing two layers of clothing from home - top layer shed to avoid police detection.