Hathershaw College

County Lines Guidance

County Lines Guidance

The UK Government defines county lines as:

‘County lines 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 (including sexual violence) and weapons.’

Criminal exploitation of children is a geographically widespread form of harm that is a typical feature of county lines criminal activity: drug networks or gangs groom and exploit children and young people to carry drugs and money from urban areas to suburban and rural areas, market and seaside towns. Key to identifying potential involvement in county lines are missing episodes, when the victim may have been trafficked for the purpose of transporting drugs and a referral to the National Referral Mechanism should be considered.

Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, county lines exploitation:

  • can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years
  • can affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years
  • can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual
  • can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence
  • can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults and
  • is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

One of the key factors found in most cases of county lines exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange (e.g. carrying drugs in return for something). Where it is the victim who is offered, promised or given something they need or want, the exchange can include both tangible (such as money, drugs or clothes) and intangible rewards (such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection). It is important to remember the unequal power dynamic within which this exchange occurs and to remember that the receipt of something by a young person or vulnerable adult does not make them any less of a victim. It is also important to note that the prevention of something negative can also fulfil the requirement for exchange, for example a young person who engages in county lines activity to stop someone carrying out a threat to harm his/her family.

Some of the factors that heighten a person’s vulnerability include:

  • having prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse e.g. CP/CIN students 
  • lack of a safe/stable home environment, now or in the past (domestic violence or parental substance misuse, mental health issues or criminality, for example) • social isolation or social difficulties
  • economic vulnerability
  • homelessness or insecure accommodation status e.g. LAC/privately fostered students
  • connections with other people involved in gangs • having a physical or learning disability e.g. EHCP learners, SEN Support learners • having mental health or substance misuse issues;
  • being in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories) 
  • being excluded from mainstream education, in particular attending a Pupil Referral Unit.

Signs to look out for:

Some potential indicators of county lines involvement and exploitation are listed below, with those at the top of particular concern:

  • persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out-of-area;
  • unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phone
  • excessive receipt of texts / phone calls and/or having multiple handsets
  • relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups
  • leaving home / care without explanation
  • suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries
  • parental concerns
  • carrying weapons
  • significant decline in school results / performance
  • gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being.

Report any concerns to the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL)/Deputy DSL (DDSL) immediately using CPOMS. If concerns are serious and in your opinion there is an immediate/imminent risk to the safety of an individual, please speak to the DSL/DDSL immediately before recording the concern on CPOMS.



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