Child exploitation

If you think a child is in immediate danger, call the Police on 999.

This page contains information and advice on three forms of child exploitation

  • County Lines criminal exploitation
  • Online grooming
  • Child sexual exploitation (CSE)

County Lines criminal exploitation

County Lines is the Police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to rural areas using dedicated mobile phone lines. It involves child criminal exploitation as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money.

County Lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.

One of the key factors is the presence of some form of exchange with the young person. This can be both tangible (rewards such as money, drugs or clothes) and intangible (such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection).

Signs that may indicate a young person is involved in County Lines:

  • Persistently going missing from school or home
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes or mobile phones (often having two phones)
  • Excessive receipt of texts/phone calls
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Carrying weapons
  • Significant decline in school results / performance
  • Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional wellbeing

What parents can do to help their child stay safe:

  • Parents are the right people to talk to their children about drugs. Find out the facts about drugs and give them accurate information.
  • Make sure they know your views and set boundaries, so they know where they stand with you.
  • Use opportunities to talk - stories in the media about drugs can be useful springboards for a conversation. Using these opportunities may mean that your child doesn’t feel like they’re being accused of anything.
  • Pick a good time to talk – not before they rush off to school or when they are using drugs.
  • Think about how you will react if they say they have used drugs. Stay calm and don’t panic.
  • If they say they don’t use drugs but you think they’re lying, don’t accuse them.
  • Listen with respect to what they have to say.
  • Don’t lose your temper if you disagree with your child’s opinions. It might make them rebel more.
  • Let them know that you are there for them.
  • If you or your child are too embarrassed to talk, ask someone close to speak to them.

Online grooming

The signs of grooming aren't always obvious and groomers will often go to great lengths not to be identified.

If a child is being groomed they may:

  • become very secretive, including about what they are doing online
  • have older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • go to unusual places to meet friends
  • have new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can't or won't explain
  • have access to drugs and alcohol.

In older children, signs of grooming can easily be mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour, but you may notice unexplained changes in behaviour or personality, or inappropriate sexual behaviour for their age.

Barnados have produced some good online resources for parents and children.

Child sexual exploitation

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity, sometimes receiving something in return like love, affection, money, drugs or alcohol. Any child can be sexually exploited no matter what culture, ethnicity, religion, gender or background.

The Council and everyone in the community has a role to play in raising awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation. The safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults is everybody’s business.

To raise a concern about the welfare of a child, contact West Sussex Children and Adult Services directly on 01403 229900 or 0330 222 6663 (out of hours).

For help, advice and guidance about a child's safety contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or visit the NSPCCSussex Police or Government websites for online resources.