I’m writing to you on the subject of county lines. This term is widely used in the media today. But what does it mean?
County lines refers to gangs and organised crime networks based in large cities who groom and exploit young or vulnerable people to sell drugs for them. Often these young people will live in smaller towns in rural areas such as Wiltshire, and will be forced to travel across the country to deliver these drugs, using dedicated mobile phone lines to organise the supply chain.
It might seem like something that would never happen to your child, but any child can be exploited, regardless of their background. We continue to see young people getting caught up in county lines and the associated violence, and often, their parents will have no idea about what is going on.
That is why it is crucial that we are all alive to the signs that our children are being criminally exploited so that action can be taken before it’s too late.
There are a number of signs that county lines drugs gangs are criminally exploiting your child, or another child you’re aware of. These can include:
· Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
· Being found in areas away from home that they are unfamiliar with
· Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
· Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
· Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work
· Large amounts of money, or new phone(s), clothes or jewellery that they cannot account for
· Asking for money, or acquiring money through crime, which may be to pay off drug debts
· Increasingly disruptive, aggressive or violent behaviour
· Hanging around with older children, or groups of peers not known through their usual social network
· Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
· Coming home with injuries, being assaulted, or looking particularly dishevelled
· Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.
This week, and ongoing, we’ll be visiting schools and colleges around the county alongside PCSOs to raise awareness amongst young people themselves about the dangers of county lines and criminal exploitation, but we need your help to spot the signs and report your concerns to us.
If you have concerns that a young person may be being criminally exploited or may be in danger, please call 999 in an emergency or 101. Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
It’s also really important for you to speak to your children about this – there are a number of support sites online for parents / guardians and young people, such as NSPCC, Childline, and Fearless.
Head of Improvement and Change