Where criminal child exploitation is most common in London and how it affects families

    Where criminal child exploitation is most common in London and how it affects families


    children in London are increasingly vulnerable to drug trafficking and other forms of criminal exploitation as the cost of living rises, public advocates say.

    Statistics published on Thursday from Children in need Consensus show that there were nearly 1,600 cases in London where criminal exploitation was identified as a factor the child which is referred to social care services, in the 2021/22 financial year.

    For the first time, councils are required to record data on criminal exploitation.

    Criminal exploitation of children involves grooming and exploiting children to deal drugs in the county, to commit other crimes such as shoplifting, car theft or serious violence, or to be radicalized into extremist groups.

    This was found in 1,200 assessments of children in outer London and 390 in inner London. Most was recorded in the village Walthamin north-east London, where 288 cases cited criminal exploitation as a factor for referral to social care.

    Criminal exploitation was detected in 212 cases Enfield – the second highest number – followed by 128 in Hillingdon, 120 times in Southwark and 114 times in Newham.

    But St Giles Trust District Service Officer Shante McCoy said this was the tip of the iceberg.

    “What we do is we take kids that are involved across county lines. We’ve seen an increase because the cost of living has gone up. Many parents struggle to put food on the table.

    “Sometimes parents really know where their child is going, but they can’t afford not to have food on the table.”

    Wire lines is a term used to describe gangs or organized crime groups that export illegal drugs using telephone lines. They are likely to use children and vulnerable adults to transport and store drugs.

    Evidence of county boundaries often becomes apparent when children are found after missing episodes outside of a London area for no apparent reason.

    “All over London you see 15- to 14-year-olds going missing, sometimes you’re getting younger,” Ms McCoy said.

    “We get calls from as far away as Norfolk, Bournemouth and Scotland, and sometimes we get kids from London.”

    Ms McCoy said the long-term impact on the child and their family was detrimental.

    “Sometimes it puts the child in great danger. When they get arrested, they build up debt and they have to find a way to pay it back, and it’s on and off.

    “Sometimes they are taken into care because social services believe the parents cannot control the number of child disappearances.

    “It is harmful in the long run; as to the money, their family is in great danger, and then it causes a breakdown in the house.’

    She and the Metropolitan Police say children as young as 15 are a common target for criminal exploitation.

    “They’re not too young to be considered street youth, but they’re not too old to be in serious trouble with the law,” Ms McCoy said.

    She is calling for increased public investment in youth clubs across the capital.

    “When I was younger, a lot of events weren’t that expensive. Our parents could give us £10 and that would be more than enough for you to go out and enjoy the day.

    “There’s not a lot of youth clubs, there’s not a lot of positive role models who can say, ‘This is a way of life.’ There should be more opportunities for less privileged children in London.

    “A lot of them see their families working two or three jobs and think that’s how life should be. But if you get the right qualifications, you can be in a better place.”

    Claire Aldis, National Program Manager for the Children’s Society Against Exploitation, said the figures were alarming.

    “Professionals still too often fail to recognize the signs of child exploitation and children are treated as perpetrators rather than victims – a problem that is sometimes exacerbated by ‘adulting’ when young people from ethnic minorities are seen as more mature than they are.

    “There is a lot of focus on county-based exploitation where young people are trained to move drugs across the country and while that is important, we also see a lot of young people being exploited to trade drugs between different boroughs of London.

    “We see criminals targeting children through social media and encouraging young people to recruit their friends and siblings, increasing the risk that professionals will see them as criminals if they are also victims.”

    The Children’s Society is calling on councils to receive, “as an absolute minimum”, £2.6 billion to support prevention, as recommended in the recent review of children’s social care.

    The society also recommends that the criminal exploitation of children be legally defined, as well as the proposed Internet Safety Bill be strengthened to require online platforms to combat the use of children to commit crimes.

    Number of assessments in which criminal exploitation of children was identified as a factor in referrals to the social care system in the London Borough:

    Camden 54

    London City 0

    Hackney data not available

    Hammersmith and Fulham

    Haringey 33


    Kensington and Chelsea 21

    Lambeth 0


    Newham 114

    Southwark 140

    Tower Hamlets 0

    Wandsworth 13

    Westminster 0

    Barking and Dagenham

    Barnett 0

    Bexley 65

    Brent 20

    Bromley 45

    Croydon 0

    Ealing 43

    Enfield 212

    Greenwich 95

    Ram 53

    Having 0

    Hillingdon 128

    Hounslow 80

    Kingston upon Thames 54

    Merton 6

    Redbridge 48

    Richmond upon Thames 53


    Waltham Forest 288


    Previous articleOffshore fund centres tighten oversight after UK’s LDI crisis
    Next articleCurrys offers offer virtual live care to customers