County Lines is where a group or gang exploit vulnerable young people or children to coerce, force manipulate or deceive them into becoming involved in criminal activity. This activity usually involves selling drugs and moving the children or young people out of cities to smaller towns or rural communities to create new networks. The ‘County Lines’ refers to the phone lines used by the criminal networks to sell the drugs.
Young people in London are especially vulnerable to County Lines as there is an oversupply of drugs and drug dealers which creates opportunities for criminals who may want to sell their drugs to areas where they can set up new supply chains. Children and young people are often used to sell these drugs because:
- Young people may stand out less as they may not have convictions so can sell drugs more easily for criminals
- Young people may be easily persuaded or threatened to work for criminals
- Young people may be attracted to the idea of making ‘easy’ money, especially if there is family hardship
- The young person may be misled into thinking there is status or excitement in gang life
Many of the methods used to exploit children and young people to be involved in County Lines are the same as those for Child Exploitation; the child or young person may appear to consent to involvement in criminal activity at first; however over time they find they cannot escape the criminals and they may suffer violence of sexual harm. Children who are forced to be involved in County Lines will be treated as victims.
Key signs that a child or young person may be involved in County Lines could be:
- Poor school attendance
- A change in friendships or relationships, particularly new relationships with perhaps older individuals or groups
- A drop in academic performance
- Signs of self-harm
- Changes in behaviour and well-being
- Signs of assault or unexplained injury
- Unexplained gifts or new possessions
- Children returning home late, staying out all night or not returning home
If you are concerned your child may be at risk of County Lines involvement please speak to someone or contact the school for advice and support.