Covid-19 and Child Criminal Exploitation: Closing Urgent Knowledge and Data Gaps on the Implications of the Pandemic for County Lines

County Lines

Funder: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Duration: June 2020 to August 2021
Project Lead: Dr Ben Brewster
Programme: Communities and Society
Partners: the National Crime Agency’s National County Lines Coordination Centre, Barnardo’s, and Nottinghamshire Police.

About the project

In 2019, 4,550 children entered the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). An overwhelming proportion were linked to child criminal exploitation (CCE) and county lines. There are no reliable statistics for vulnerable adults whose properties were appropriated through cuckooing, but figures suggest these run into the hundreds nationwide. Data gaps on county lines and associated grooming and cuckooing are now exacerbated by Covid-19. The National Crime Agency admits that CCE and county lines are not well understood by police. This gap inhibits enforcement and prevention. While school exclusion and missing persons occurrence is linked to heightened exploitation risk, there is no sound evidence base from which to predict how school closure and lack of face-to-face social care will impact vulnerability to exploitation. There are no current studies on the connected exploitation of cuckooing or the evolution of criminal tactics due to restricted movement.

By analysing data across statutory and voluntary sectors, we will show the impacts of mitigating actions and statutory reprioritisation on prevention and safeguarding, and how criminals adapt their methods. This will assist police and safeguarding authorities to protect vulnerable children and adults. Our research will provide substantial evidence upon which police, safeguarding and care organisations’ can formulate interventions that address county lines related offending, and reduce risk to vulnerable children and adults. Due to the urgent nature of the research we will deliver tri-monthly briefings for key stakeholders, in addition to the longer-term deliverables.


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