Using the Arts to Tackle Child Criminal Exploitation

Members of staff from the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth are taking part in an initiative to raise awareness and aid the work in Hampshire on tackling Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE).

“The threat from county lines drug dealing continues to present a significant risk to vulnerable children and adults living within Hampshire, despite the current Covid-19 restrictions the country finds itself in.” – Chief Inspector Mark Lynch from Hampshire Constabulary

Dr Catherine McNamara (Head of School, Art, Design & Performance) is the Project Lead, working with Dr Erika Hughes (Academic Lead: Performance) and Ian Nicholson (Lead Artist based at UoP) in partnership with Active Communities Network to deliver an awareness-raising project and complement the multi-agency work in the region on Child Criminal Exploitation, County Lines, gangs and youth violence. The project is funded by the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner.


The team includes artists, practitioners, students, academics and professionals in policing, safeguarding and youth offending. The UoP team is designing and developing an applied arts tool that will be used to raise awareness of the risks of being drawn into CCE. This is an interactive digital story – an online form of ‘choose your own adventure’ story. This resource was originally going to be used as part of facilitated, interactive workshops with young people in Portsmouth schools as well as parents & carers from the local community in June and July this year.


Working with the range of stakeholders is critical. The project builds knowledge and exchanges knowledge in an iterative way and in multiple directions in order to create a resource that will meet the needs of all partners in their mission to raise awareness and prevent children from being exploited. For example, the project has enabled undergraduate students of drama, theatre and performance to connect with the project in structured and specific ways throughout.


Dr Catherine McNamara says:

“The challenges of continuing with this kind of work during the pandemic are significant. We are developing and building the story, finding new ways to draw on professional, specialised knowledge of case work and the lived experiences of young people who have been groomed. This takes longer as people are juggling new priorities and the pressures of front line work, but it is possible. The bigger challenge is to decide whether to adapt to the constraints the pandemic creates and find new ways to enable young people to experience the interactive story or to wait. To wait for a time when we can visit schools and work directly with children to talk about this issue when like everyone, we do not know when that will be. The work must be trauma-informed and the conversations with young people must be ethical and responsible. Adapting to a less interpersonal mode of interacting is not a simple decision to make. This is the point we are at with this project as we look ahead to a new school year. Children are still being exploited and drawn into harmful situations and work to safeguard young people must also continue.”