What is county lines?

Children as young as 12 are being forced to put themselves in danger and break the law by criminals who are taking advantage of how vulnerable these young people are.

County lines is when gangs and organised crime networks exploit children to sell drugs. Often these children are made to travel across counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone ‘lines’ to supply drugs.

How many young people are affected by county lines?

No one really knows how many young people across the country are being forced to take part, but The Children’s Commissioner estimates there are at least 46,000 children in England who are involved in gang activity. It is estimated that at around 4,000 teenagers in London alone are being exploited through county lines.

Tragically the young people exploited through county lines are often seen by professionals such as police and social workers as criminals.

However, we want these vulnerable children to be recognised as victims of trafficking and exploitation. We want them to receive the support they need to deal with the trauma they have been through.

How are children being exploited?

Gangs are deliberately targeting vulnerable children – those who are homeless, living in care homes or trapped in poverty. These children are unsafe, unloved, or unable to cope, and the gangs take advantage of this.

These gangs groom, threaten or trick children into trafficking their drugs for them. They might threaten a young person physically, or they might threaten the young person’s family members. The gangs might also offer something in return for the young person’s cooperation – it could be money, food, alcohol, clothes and jewellery, or improved status – but the giving of these gifts will usually be manipulated so that the child feels they are in debt to their exploiter.

However they become trapped in county lines, the young people involved feel as if they have no choice but to continue doing what the gangs want.

What are the signs of criminal exploitation and county lines?

  • Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
  • Being found in areas away from home
  • 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
  • Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
  • Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour
  • Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
  • Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled
  • Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.

No child should feel alone

If you think a young person you know could be in danger call 999, or if you have non-urgent information to share with the police, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

If you are concerned about a child’s welfare, contact your local social care department.

Because no child should feel alone.

find out more about our work to tackle county lines