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The Home Office has today announced new funding to support vulnerable children and young people groomed by gangs to sell drugs through the practice known as ‘county lines’.

The pilot support service is for exploited young victims caught up in county lines drugs running between London and Kent.

A total of £300,000 has been awarded to Missing People and St Giles Trust to carry out the work, which will include:

  • Offering one-to-one support to young and vulnerable drug carriers. St Giles Trust workers will engage with young people caught up in county lines to act as an advocate and link them up with support services in their home area after they have returned.
  • Contacting young people to assess their risk and offering specialist support interviews with children who have returned from being missing while being used as a drug carrier. The service, provided by Missing People, will also offer guidance and support to the child’s parents or carers. It will focus on London and Kent but be available nationally (England and Wales) for any young person returning home.
  • Research will be conducted into the services available to help young people exit county lines involvement to identify any gaps of support. This work will include investigating the potential for a 24/7 dedicated helpline.

Sarah Newton, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said: ‘The practice of using children to ferry drugs around the country is abhorrent and exploitative. They are often subjected to violence and intimidation and it has a devastating impact on vulnerable young people, their families and local communities.

‘We have taken action with a range of measures to tackle county lines including introducing legislation to give police the powers to shut down the phone lines used to market drugs which sends a very clear message that we will not tolerate this criminal activity.

‘But we also recognise the need to offer additional support to exploited youngsters which is why we have funded the new pilot service. I hope the new service will help transform the lives of those children running drugs into rural areas.’

Junior Smart, Founder of St Giles Trust’s SOS Project, said: ‘We are very much looking forward to working with the Home Office and Missing People to tackle this issue. 

‘The children and young people involved in county lines are very frightened and highly vulnerable. They are usually unable to access any help until their situations reach a crisis point.

‘However, this funding from the Home Office will enable us to join up services to offer more effective interventions. Ultimately, it gives young people affected by them the support they need to become safe, re-engage with education and get their young lives back on track.’

Karen Robinson, Director of Partnerships and Development, at Missing People said: ‘At the charity Missing People every day we see children reported missing who are incredibly vulnerable to grooming and exploitation by gangs who go on to exploit them through county lines.

‘This partnership project between Missing People and St Giles Trust will be a game-changer in the way this issue is approached. Investment from the Home Office will enable us to reach and offer help to more vulnerable children and young people and support their families.’

Notes to editors:

·         County lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines’.

·         The Digital Economy Act introduced powers to enable the police or the NCA to apply to the county court for an order compelling phone companies to close down mobile phone lines being used for drug dealing purposes.

·         More information on county lines and signs of exploitation can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/criminal-exploitation-of-children-and-vulnerable-adults-county-lines  

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