There is limited research on child criminal exploitation with far less known about how this manifests in Wales. This Health Care Research Wales funded study addressed this research gap.
The study examined how children are targeted, groomed, and criminally exploited in Wales. It also assessed what different services need to effectively identify, engage, and safeguard these children by exploring approaches and interventions most effective in the identification and prevention of child criminal exploitation. In doing so, interviews were undertaken with 14 criminally exploited children and 4 children at risk of exploitation, 15 parents with at least one child who had been criminally exploited, and 56 professionals, including representatives from British Transport Police, children’s services, education, health, housing, police, probation, youth offending services, the third sector and Welsh Government.
The study found that the commonly used term, ‘county lines’ draws attention away from the different ways that children are being criminally exploited. This includes exploitation by family members, local individuals or groups, as well as urban-based groups. Similarly, gendered notions about exploitation hindered appropriate safeguarding responses for girls who are criminally exploited and boys who are sexually exploited; findings showed that boys and girls can be criminally and/or sexually exploited. Therefore, the study adopted the term ‘child exploitation’ to reflect the range of perpetrators, criminal activities, and the range of physical and sexual abuse children suffer when they had been exploited.
Findings from the report are being used to develop a toolkit to enhance service and community responses to young people at risk or involved in child criminal exploitation. The toolkit will provide information regarding how children are targeted, the activities they are involved in and what approaches and interventions were shown to be effective in safely supporting young people away from exploitation. The toolkit is being co-produced with children, parents and professionals and will include links to existing information and resources as well as new content based on study findings.