Responding to concerns about county lines exploitation
If you’re worried that a child or young person might be or is at risk of being exploited by a county lines gang, you must share your concerns.
If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999. If you're worried about a child but they are not in immediate danger, you should share your concerns.
- Follow your organisational child protection procedures. Organisations that work with children and families must have safeguarding policies and procedures in place.
- Contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you and give you expert advice.
- Contact the local child protection services. Their contact details can be found on the website for the relevant local authority. The local authority the child comes from is responsible for the child’s welfare. But it is also good practice to contact the local authority in the area the child is found, as they may need to be a part of the multi-agency response and there may be other children or vulnerable adults at risk.
- Contact the police.
National referral mechanism (NRM)
As part of county lines, young people are trafficked to different locations.
You should refer children who have been trafficked to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Evidence of a referral can be used in a young person’s defence in criminal and legal proceedings (Youth Justice Legal Centre, 2018).
> Find out more about what action to take if a child has been exploited through trafficking and modern slavery
A multi-agency response is needed to tackle county lines and protect any children involved from further exploitation. This should include participation from local authority children’s social care, the local authority community safety team, schools, police and youth offending teams.
The local authority the child comes from (if known) is responsible for the child’s welfare (Ministry of Justice, 2019). They may need to liaise with child protection agencies in the area the child was found, in order to keep the child safe.
Collaborative working and information sharing is essential in protecting the welfare of the child.
Across the UK, Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTGs) can act as sources of advice for children without a figure of parental responsibility in the UK who have been victims of trafficking and modern slavery (Home Office, 2020b).
ICTG regional practice co-ordinators take on a more strategic role supporting children who do have a figure of parental responsibility, working with professionals to encourage them to take a co-ordinated and multi-agency approach to child trafficking, modern slavery and county lines (Home Office, 2020b).
> Find out more about multi-agency working in child protection and safeguarding
Supporting the young person who has been exploited
Adults who work or volunteer with children and young people are in a good position to build trusting relationships with them. This will help young people feel able to discuss issues that are affecting their lives and speak out if they need support about any issue, including county lines (Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, 2020).
Those who work with children need to be clear that county lines is not a lifestyle choice and that the young person is not to blame for being exploited by a gang.
Young people who are involved with a county lines gang may push back when help is offered. They may not see themselves as being exploited or they may be scared of recriminations if they ‘snitch’ or’ grass’ on gang leaders.
Gangs convince young people that there is no way out for them, in order to trap and control them. This means it’s important for adults to reassure young people that there is a way out of gang life and that help is available when they are ready to leave.
Young people may finally reach out for help in the event of a major incident or emergency. This might include a serious injury or the threat of serious injury to themselves or someone they know, or if someone they know was killed. If professionals do not act quickly and effectively to intervene at this point, the child may be ‘re-groomed’ or pressured back into the gang (Canterbury Community Safety Partnership, 2020).
If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice about gangs or anything else that’s worrying them, you can always direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online.
Childline provides information and advice for young people affected by gang activity, drugs or any other form of abuse.
You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.
To help identify and support children who have experienced county lines, professionals need training which covers:
- signs and indicators of county lines exploitation
- the legislative framework around criminal exploitation
- the NRM referral process
- understanding the trauma experienced by young people
(Children’s Society, 2019).