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SPACE Steps for Parents+

Guidance and assistance for parents (and carers) affected by County Lines CCE (Child Criminal Exploitation)

Suspecting or learning that your child has been exploited and trafficked into County Lines as a drug runner is a shocking and concerning revelation for any parent.


County Lines is a criminal enterprise propped up by (Child) Criminal Exploitation - a form of Modern Slavery and Trafficking.

Organised crime groups recruit and trap children and vulnerable young adults to do their street-level dirty work, keeping those running the networks safely distanced from law-enforcement detection.


Changes in a child's demeanour and personality (resulting from criminal grooming and psychological rewiring), possession of drugs and/or associated paraphernalia or other concerning items which cannot be satisfactorily explained, and withdrawal from normal interests and family are a few key early indicators of CCE, followed by missing (trafficking) episodes and debt-bondage .  

Driven largely by County Lines exploitation, CCE remains the most common form of child slavery in the UK for some years. Victims are predominantly British nationals and male children. This has led to British children being the most common child slaves in 2016, and British nationals the most-common victims referred for suspected Modern Slavery in the UK from 2017 to 2021 and again from June 2023. 

Sadly, many parents remain unaware of this wide-spread phenomenon which has entrapped thousands of young people; unsurprising - as it is so far removed from the normal world of families that noting changes in their child's behaviour and movements is as far as many parents tend to register a concern.  Additionally, the overwhelming messaging from authorities prioritises drug-trafficking over child trafficking, with exploited children described as drug-dealers, in gangs, and making lifestyle choices.

If you think your child is affected, you are not alone but one of thousands.

This is happening to children from all walks of life; all backgrounds, colours and classes. Children who are

  • Living with parents, kinship carers or in the care system

  • Known to services and/or have a criminal record, or neither ('clean skins')

  • Neurodivergent (increased susceptibility to CCE with ADHD and Autism highly common), have Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND), on Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP), or neurotypical and/or high, academic achievers - no child is immune, 'street-wise' or otherwise

  • Attending (or excluded from) Main-Stream or Private Education, Alternative Provision / Pupil Referral Units, and those who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)
    and alcohol

  • Drug and/or alcohol users (with addictions) and those with no current or prior history of substance use

  • From happy, comfortable homes or from chaotic or difficult homes and/or with adverse childhood experiences including intra-familial harm and neglect - protective-factor parents are no barrier to CCE

Families seeking our assistance independently report identical experiences, concerns and failures in their experience of statutory and third sector services, and echo the need for a better-trained, professional, multi-agency coordinated response which helps not harms.

If you are a parent or carer of a child (suspected to be) exploited into County Lines, please contact us at for free assistance through our SPACE Steps national service.

Unfortunately no easy fix exists for affected families but we have extensive experience and offer expert advice and guidance in navigating complex statutory systems to better protect and minimise life-threatening risks to the child (and family) from serious criminal, violent and emotional harm.

This includes what to look out for, what to expect from responders, including Child Protection and Modern Slavery statutory duties., as well as proposals, outcomes and interventions to avoid and how to challenge inadequate, harmful responses.

Whilst our mission is unfunded and our national SPACE Steps service is provided entirely voluntarily around other demanding roles, every effort is made to respond to families as soon as practicably possible.

We prioritise those most at risk and/or facing imminent harm and respond out of hours where urgent.


We also respond to requests for assistance from statutory and third-sector professionals supporting exploited young people.  

Please also see NPIES.

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