Heads: Are your pupils being exploited for ‘county lines’?

Home Office issues guidance to schools for signs to look out for in children who could be at risk of being involved in county lines

Published on 16th February 2018

Head-teachers are being urged to be vigilante and identify any suspect behaviour which could mean their pupils are at risk of or involved in ‘county lines’.

The Home Office has produced promotional material outlining things to look out for in pupils which could mean they are involved in county lines.

This includes a significant decline in school performance, leaving home or care without explanation and having unexplained amounts of money or possessions such as mobile phones.

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.

The National Crime Agency outlines a typical county lines scenario is defined by the following components:

  • A group (not necessarily affiliated as a gang) establishes a network between an urban hub and county location, into which drugs (primarily heroin and crack cocaine) are supplied.
  • A branded mobile phone line is established in the market, to which orders are placed by introduced customers. The line will commonly be controlled by a third party, remote from the market.
  • The group exploits young or vulnerable persons, to achieve the storage and/or supply of drugs, movement of cash proceeds and to secure the use of dwellings (commonly referred to as cuckooing).
  • The group or individuals exploited by them regularly travel between the urban hub and the county market, to replenish stock and deliver cash.
  • The group is inclined to use intimidation, violence and weapons, including knives, corrosives and firearms.

A report from the NCA outlined that county lines groups impose high levels of violence, including the prevalent use of weapons and firearms to intimidate and control members of the group and associated victims.

“Although the exploitation of children continues to be reported, the true scale of abuse remains an intelligence gap in many parts of the country. It is often difficult to assess accurately, requiring focused and systematic data capture, as well as multi-sector collaboration to develop and maintain reliable data. A clear national picture cannot be determined currently,” said the NCA report.

  • 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
  • Significant changes in emotional well-being

The resource urges heads to follow your safeguarding procedures and share your concerns with local authority social care services.

Resource available here




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