The national county lines exploitation support service

About SafeCall

SafeCall is a free, confidential and anonymous helpline and support service for young people and family members that are affected by missing, county lines and criminal exploitation.

The service also provides confidential support and advice for professionals in relation to their work with an exploited young person or family.

The service is open 9am to 11pm; 7 days a week.

Follow the links below or contact us on 116 000 to find out how we can support you.

We’re here to support you, for free and in confidence. Call or text 116 000

Talk to us


Whoever you are, we provide support and guidance around exploitation and county lines.

Support for young people

Worried and not sure who to talk to? SafeCall is a safe space, we do not judge you, or tell you what to do, we can listen to you, offer advice, and help you be safe.

Support for families and carers

Are you worried that a child in your care has been caught up in exploitation? It’s hard when you think that your child isn’t safe. SafeCall is here for you. Our team can offer practical and emotional support.

Services for professionals

Are you working with a young person, family member or carer affected by missing or criminal exploitation? SafeCall can support you and the young people and families who you work with.

About Exploitation and County Lines

What is Criminal Exploitation and County Lines?

Criminal Exploitation: Being forced, threatened and/or blackmailed into criminal activity for someone else. This includes drug dealing, carrying weapons, stealing or using a person’s bank account to transfer money gained from drug dealing.

County Lines: A specific form of criminal exploitation set up by gangs and organised crime groups to transport and sell drugs from one area to another. This could be over short distances in your own neighbourhood or hundreds of miles across the country.

The 2018 Home Office Serious Crime Strategy states the NPCC definition of a County Line is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas [within the UK], using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move [and store] the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.

Gangs will use a number of ways to build a relationship with a child and to build trust between them. This is called ‘grooming’. Things can turn dangerous very quickly, when they start demanding the young person does things for them.  This could include selling drugs to work off a ‘debt’. This is often coupled with threats, intimidation and violence to force the young person in to doing what they want.


The risks of criminal exploitation

The risks associated with exploitation can include physical and emotional harm, violence, sexual abuse and exposure to situations that can leave young people extremely traumatized. Gangs might also threaten to hurt the young person’s family or to tell their family about some of the ‘favours’ they’ve already done for the gang. This is to increase the fear the young person feels.

Gangs will often convince children that they are in debt to them through a practice known as ‘debt bondage’.

This could be:

  • When a child will be set up and robbed of drugs by a member of their own gang and left believing they are in debt.
  • When a child is told that they owe the gang for all of the ‘gifts’ they have been given. This could be new mobiles, jewellery or trainers.
  • The child will often feel that they have no choice but to continue working for the gang for free until this ‘debt’ is paid off. In reality, the young person is unlikely to ever ‘pay off’ this ‘debt’ as gangs will usually keep adding to the amount, trapping the young person.


The indicators of criminal exploitation

  • A noticeable and often sudden change in personality, behaviour and moods such as becoming hostile, aggressive, secretive, unsettled, anxious, scared, depressed or controlling;
  • Disengaging from education, family and/ or their normal social life;
  • Periods of going missing – this could be for short periods or for days, weeks or months at a time;
  • Unexplained new items – sometimes called ‘gifts’. This could include new expensive trainers, mobile phones, jewellery or clothes;
  • An increase in using their mobile phone with lots of messages and calls coming through as well as multiple phones;
  • Their attendance, behaviour or performance at school declining;
  • Spending time with a new group of older friends, or people you are never allowed to meet;
  • Returning home with rucksacks, boxes or packages that you don’t recognise;
  • Unexplained injuries including bruises, burns or cuts;
  • Unexplained sums of money;
  • Coming to the attention of the police.

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most important indicators to show that something might not be right for your child. You may also have a ‘gut feeling’ that something isn’t right. It’s important not to ignore this, and to speak to someone about your concerns.

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