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3.3.7 Safeguarding Children and Young People from Gang Related Exploitation


Gang-related exploitation is an emerging feature of concern amongst young people across the UK, including in Cambridgeshire. Included below is some information about the national and local picture as well as the response by children’s services in Cambridgeshire.


Home Office, Ending Gang Violence and Exploitation, January 2016, Home Office

National Crime Agency, Intelligence Assessment, County Lines, Gangs and Safeguarding, August 2016, National Crime Agency

This chapter was added to this manual in October 2017.


  1. Introduction
  2. Indicators of Possible Gang-Related Exploitation
  3. Referring Cases of Concern
  4. Supporting Children and Young People Experiencing Gang-Related Exploitation

1. Introduction

In 2009, the Home Office proposed this definition for a gang: ‘a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who:

  • See themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group;
  • Engage in criminal activity and violence;
  • Lay claim over territory (not necessarily geographical but can include an illegal economy territory);
  • Have some form of identifying structural feature; and
  • Are in conflict with other, similar, gangs.

More recently, the Home Office (2016) highlighted that the way gangs are operating is changing and that they are becoming less visible in public, and more fluid in the way they are organised. It has been identified that it is important that local partners are able to respond to the exploitation of vulnerable people by gangs, especially as the problem is often hidden, and not always understood in some local areas where it is taking place.

The NSPCC have highlighted that children and young people involved with, or on the edges of, gangs might be victims of violence or they might be pressured into doing things like stealing or carrying drugs or weapons. They might be abused, exploited or put into dangerous situations. For lots of young people, being part of a gang makes them feel part of a family so they might not want to leave. Even if they do, leaving or attempting to leave can be a really scary idea. They might be frightened about what will happen to them, their friends or their family if they leave. There are lots of reasons why young people feel the pressure to join gangs. They might be bored and looking for excitement or feel attracted to the status and power it can give them. They might join due to peer pressure, money or family problems. Gang membership can also make a child feel protected and that they belong.

A key priority for the Home Office is to tackle the ‘county lines’ approach. It is known that gang members are moving into drugs markets outside the urban areas where they usually live and operate, because they are unknown to the local police, there is less competition locally from rival gangs, and non-metropolitan police forces tend to have less experience of addressing this type of activity. The exploitation of vulnerable people is central to county lines. For example, young people are groomed and/or coerced into moving or selling drugs, and the homes of vulnerable adults can be taken over as a base from which drugs are sold. Those targeted often include looked after children and others known to children’s social care and youth offending teams.

The emerging picture described by the National Crime Agency (2016) has been recognised by local agencies in Cambridgeshire during 2016 and 2017 and an increasing number of young people appear to be drawn into such activity. The ‘county lines’ approach involves an individual, or more frequently a group, establishing and operating a telephone number in an area outside of their normal locality in order to sell drugs directly to users at street level. This generally involves a group from an urban area expanding their operations by crossing one or more police force boundaries to more rural areas, setting up a secure base and using runners to conduct day to day dealing.

The report outlines that boys aged 14-17 are the most often targeted, however girls can also be exploited. In some cases girls may engage in a relationship with a group member and can later become victims of sexual and domestic violence. It is also highlighted that the use of debt is a common feature in the exploitation of children, as with adults. Children may initially be groomed by a member of the group who will give them money and items such as clothes and mobile phones. They will then be told they owe the group money before being threatened and forced to take part in county lines drug dealing.

2. Indicators of Possible Gang-Related Exploitation

The definition of being at risk of gang-related exploitation is:

‘There are tangible indicators/evidence that suggests risks that a young person is being groomed and/or coerced into moving or selling drugs and being involved in other violence related gang activity, e.g. missing episodes with limited information on whereabouts and/or involvement with groups involved in the supply of drugs and carrying of weapons’.

The issues below can be indicators of gang-related exploitation, but may also indicate other concerns, including child sexual exploitation and radicalization.

  • Missing from Home, Care or Education;
  • Unsuitable and unsettled Accommodation;
  • Poor school or college engagement;
  • Evidence of concerning drug use;
  • Strained relationships, detachment and lack of trust with family, peers;
  • Failure to and resistance to engage with services;
  • Involvement in coercive, controlling and violent relationships;
  • Evidence of concerning emotional and mental health presentation;
  • Association and relationships with concerning adults;
  • Excessive use of phone, internet and social media;
  • Failure to explain gifts and excessive;
  • Change in personal appearance and clothing.

3. Referring Cases of Concern

All staff across children’s services must consider whether children and young people are at risk of gang-related or other forms of exploitation as part of their ongoing assessment processes. In particular these issues should be considered as part of children’s social care Single Assessments and YOS AssetPlus assessments.

When children and young people are identified to be at risk, a referral should be made to the MASH, including completion of the Child Exploitation Checklist. If appropriate, the young person will be added to the central list of those vulnerable to exploitation and where appropriate discussed at the MASE meeting.

4. SupportingChildren and Young People Experiencing Gang-Related Exploitation

Where concerns are identified, the lead agency is responsible for completing the LSCB Child Exploitation risk management tool. Appropriate risk management/safety planning forums should be convened to include all agencies working directly with the young person and their family.

Staff from statutory agencies and voluntary sector organisations together with the child or young person and his / her family as appropriate, should agree on the services which should be provided to them and how they will be coordinated. The types of intervention offered should be appropriate to their needs and should take full account of identified risk factors and their individual circumstances.

Specific programmes are currently being used or developed in the following areas:

  • Deterring from the early signs and onset of gang and/or drug exploitation activity;
  • Challenging and supporting young people to understand how involvement in carrying weapons and drug activity can impact upon themselves and others;
  • Challenging and supporting young people already involved in use of weapons, gang and/or drug exploitation by addressing behaviours, the cycle of involvement and exploring alternative lifestyle choices.

For children who are Looked After issues raised and actions planned should be incorporated into the child’s Care Plan and Placement Plan, and reviewed as part of the Looked After Child Review.