“County lines” gangs operate by recruiting vulnerable children from large cities across the UK and using them to possess and distribute drugs across peripheral towns.
Based on assessments from local authority (LA) social services, and reported in the Telegraph, the number of young people deemed vulnerable to such gangs has more than doubled over the past three years, from 3,680 reported cases in 2014/15 to 8,650 in 2017/18.
The increase has been linked to cuts to LA services. Government data, obtained by the Labour party, has shown that councils have made £2.4 million in cuts to children’s substance abuse services to cope with reductions in their funding. The analysis has also found that 82% of councils have shrunk their public health budget this year, with some LAs cutting as much 13%.
The news has been followed by a report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for runaway and missing children which includes claims that LAs have facilitated “county lines” operations by sending children to accommodation outside of their locality. If young people are being exploited by county lines gangs in one location, moving them to a different area allows these groups to extend their reach. Two thirds of children in care are now living away from their original area, up 46% from seven years ago.
Ofsted inspectors are scrutinising if schools have been educating children sufficiently about county lines operations as part of their wider obligations to informing pupils on safeguarding issues, so it is essential that governing boards are fulfilling this duty.