Across the country, young people and vulnerable adults are being exploited by gangs to move and sell drugs on their behalf in suburban areas, market towns and coastal regions. This criminal activity is known as 'county lines', as young people travel to different regions where they're unknown to the police and can, therefore, operate undetected. These young people can be as young as 10 and are often subjected to threats, violence, and sexual abuse by the gangs.
To safeguard vulnerable young people from being exploited by 'county line' gangs, the Home Office is working with Crime Stoppers, the Department for Education and local authorities to increase awareness of the signs to spot potential victims amongst professionals who may encounter them, including teachers and school leaders.
The signs to spot are:
- Persistently going missing from school or home, or being found out-of-area
- Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones
- Excessive receipt of texts or phone calls
- Relationships with controlling, older individuals or gang association
- Leaving home or care without explanation
- Suspicion of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries
- Parental concerns
- Significant decline in school performance
- Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being
The Home Office has produced resources (available here) to help teachers and school staff recognise the signs to look out for, that could indicate that someone is a victim. Teachers and school staff should report their concerns to their safeguarding lead.