What Is County Lines?
County lines refers to a model used by criminal gangs, whereby urban gangs supply drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns.
These gangs frequently exploit children and vulnerable adults to courier drugs and money.
Some vulnerable adults have their homes taken over by the gangs (cuckooing) using force or coercion.
While sometimes referred to as Child Criminal Exploitation, is broader than just county lines, and includes for instance children forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft.
Gangs are known to target vulnerable children and adults; some of the factors that heighten a person’s vulnerability include:
- having prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse
- lack of a safe/stable home environment, now or in the past (domestic violence or parental substance misuse, mental health issues or criminality, for example)
- social isolation or social difficulties
- economic vulnerability
- homelessness or insecure accommodation status
- connections with other people involved in gangs
- having a physical or learning disability
- having mental health or substance misuse issues;
- being in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories)
- being excluded from mainstream education, in particular attending a Pupil Referral Unit.
Whilst these heighten someone’s vulnerability, anyone regardless of age, socio-economic background or location can be groomed and exploited into county lines and criminal exploitation.
What Are The Warning Signs That Someone May Be Exploited Into This?
Potential signs which someone may notice that an individual is at risk of, or has already been, exploited into County Lines include:
- Children or young people going missing from home or school.
- Changes in a person’s behaviour or emotional wellbeing.
- Children or young people socialising with unfamiliar people.
- A person starting to abuse drugs and alcohol.
- Someone acquiring money they can’t account for.
- Someone buying expensive goods they can’t afford.
- Lone children visiting from outside the area.
- Someone with multiple phones, tablets or SIM cards.
- Unknown or suspicious people going into a neighbour’s house – especially if that neighbour is vulnerable.
Any practitioner working with a vulnerable person who they think may be at risk of county lines exploitation should follow their local safeguarding guidance and share this information with local authority social services. If you believe a person is in immediate risk of harm, you should contact the police.
Where Can I Report Concerns To?
If you have any suspicions or information that could help identifying any form of county lines in your area do not hesitate to call Police on 101.
Information can also be provided anonymously to the independent charity CrimeStoppers on 0800 555111.
What Support Is Out There For Victims?
Further information and guidance on county lines exploitation can be found on The Children’s Society website.
NSPCC and Childline offer sources of support for young people.
Mind is a source of help for those suffering with mental health issues.
Click here to download the Warwickshire Police ‘County Lines’ poster, which highlights some of the warning signs to look out for, as well as details of where you can report concerns to.
Businesses are also encouraged to support their local community and look out for the signs of County Lines. More information can be found on the Warwickshire Business Watch website.