Tackling the criminal exploitation of children is a complex issue – many children and young people become victims as a result of coercion, control and grooming by gang elders from ‘County Lines Gangs’. Unfortunately, children who are at-risk of school exclusion, in pupil referral units (PRUs), or in care are acknowledged to be disproportionally vulnerable to being groomed and these risk-factors have only been heightened since the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing cost-of-living crisis. The most recent statistics from the National Crime Agency estimate that there are more than 2,000 individual deal lines in the UK, and according to The Children’s Society, 46,000 children in England are thought to be involved in gangs, with 4,000 of those being criminally exploited in London alone.
Underscoring its commitment to tackling this growing challenge and bolster the law-enforcement response, the Government has invested up to £145m over the next three years, including £5m to support victims and families who are affected by county lines exploitation. Whilst this funding and other recent initiatives are all positive moves forward, unfortunately money alone will not solve the problem – increased co-ordination and data sharing between local authorities and the police is crucial to having the tools to identify, safeguard and support vulnerable young people, who are already involved in or are at-risk of exploitation by county lines gangs. Stronger multi-agency working is therefore critical to the success and effectiveness of local safeguarding frameworks to protect victims, and in turn, bring perpetrators to justice.
This Policy Foresight ‘in-person’ conference offers a timely opportunity for key partners from local authorities, children’s services, the police, social care, education, youth offending, criminal justice, health, housing, third sector and other key statutory agencies to understand the current national picture of county lines and examine how gangs have exploited the pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis to target more young people. The conference provides an ideal platform for participants to hear from experts and policymakers, learn from innovative best practice and share ideas to improve early intervention strategies, enhance partnership working and deliver lasting protections that keep vulnerable young people safe from exploitation and harm.
Resource - The Children's Society Look Closer Campaign
Guidance - 12th February 2021: County Lines Exploitation: Applying All Our Health
Guidance - 14th March 2023: Government County Lines Programme
News - 9th March 2023: Thousands more arrested in nationwide crack down on county lines
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