News Policy, Guidance & Law Safeguarding

Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: county lines

What is county lines exploitation?

County lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”.
It involves child criminal exploitation (CCE) as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money. Gangs establish a base in the market location, typically by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

County lines is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of Government departments, local government agencies and VCS (voluntary and community sector) organisations.

County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities. Children in care can be especially vulnerable to exploitation.

Home Office Guidance has been produced for frontline professionals on dealing with county lines. It outlines what county lines (and associated criminal exploitation) is, signs to look for in potential victims, and what to do about it. The guidance should supplement your organisation’s existing safeguarding policies, to help identify and protect those exploited through this criminal activity.

Download the Home Office Guidance: Criminal Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County Lines guidance

Serious violence strategy launched

The Home Office has also launched the Serious violence strategy which aims to steer young people away from crime as well as tackling violent drug-dealing gangs. The strategy covers four key themes including: tackling county lines (the drug dealing model which involves networks from urban centres expanding their drug dealing activities into smaller towns and rural areas) and misuse of drugs, early intervention and prevention; supporting communities and local partnerships; and an effective law enforcement and criminal justice response. Measures announced include: the development of a National county lines co-ordination centre; setting up an early intervention youth fund to provide support to communities; and the expansion of Redthread’s Youth violence intervention programme to areas outside of London.

Source: Home Office  Date: 09 April 2018

Further information: Serious violence strategy (PDF)

Contextual Safeguarding

Contextual Safeguarding has been developed by Carlene Firmin at the University of Bedfordshire over the past six years to inform policy and practice approaches to safeguarding adolescents. Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

Therefore children’s social care practitioners need to engage with individuals and sectors who do have influence over/within extra-familial contexts, and recognise that assessment of, and intervention with, these spaces are a critical part of safeguarding practices. Contextual Safeguarding, therefore, expands the objectives of child protection systems in recognition that young people are vulnerable to abuse in a range of social contexts.

The following briefing provides an overview of contextual safeguarding from theory to practice: Contextual Safeguarding – An overview of the operational, strategic and conceptual framework

You can join the Contextual Safeguarding Network for free here.

You can learn more about contextual safeguarding via this short video by Danielle Fritz

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