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Counting Lives - Responding to children who are criminally exploited

July 2019

Children coming into contact with statutory agencies

There is currently no statutory definition of child criminal exploitation. This can mean that the response to children from different statutory agencies and in different parts of the country is inconsistent.


Responses to children who are criminally exploited

Key recommendations

This report highlights a patchwork of data, understanding and responses to child criminal exploitation. This lack of consistent strategies and approaches is leaving statutory agencies struggling to keep up with organised criminal groups who are coercing and controlling children into criminality. Sadly, children are more likely to be identified when exploitation has already happened – or is happening and at a stage where they are more likely to be criminalised – than to receive a safeguarding response.

In order to disrupt the criminal exploitation of children, we identify the following summary of recommendations for central and local government and agencies. A more comprehensive list of recommendations can be found later in this report.

The law should be clarified to ensure that all children who are groomed, coerced and controlled into committing crime are recognised as victims of exploitation.

The Home Office should amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to include the definition of child criminal exploitation. Such a definition would help ensure a common approach from criminal justice and safeguarding professionals, would recognise the traumatic experiences of children who are exploited, and assist the prosecution of criminals and the avoidance of criminalisation for exploited children.

The Home Office should consult on a new criminal offence outlawing the practice of making a child insert and carry drugs within their bodies. For the purposes of clarity and consistency, this new offence should be introduced via an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

All government departments and statutory agencies should be clear about their role in identifying and disrupting child criminal exploitation, and should fully understand their role in responding to victims.


The Department for Education and Home Office should jointly lead the development of a cross-departmental strategy on child criminal exploitation, backed up with changes to relevant statutory guidance, to ensure that professionals working with children are clear about how to safeguard children who are at risk or are criminally exploited.

Statutory agencies should have access to appropriate resources to identify and support victims of child criminal exploitation.

The introduction of new local safeguarding partnerships should be seen as an opportunity to ensure that multi-agency arrangements are structured in a way to identify and respond to child criminal exploitation.


Data collection and recording around child criminal exploitation should be improved to ensure more accurate understanding of scale and prevalence and the effectiveness of interventions.

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