Torbay Safeguarding Children Partnership

What is county lines exploitation?

County lines, sometimes referred to as Dangerous Drug Networks (DDN’s) is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs into our local market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone numbers, often referred to as ‘graft phones’ or ‘deal lines’. It can often involve child criminal exploitation (CCE) through the use of children from the urban source area or the targeting of local children and vulnerable adults to move both drugs and money. Gangs, having established a market base, can typically take over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force, coercion and or deception in a term referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.

Signs to look out for

A young person’s involvement in county lines activity often leaves signs. A young person might exhibit some of these signs, either as a member or as an associate of a gang dealing drugs. Any sudden changes in a young person’s lifestyle should be discussed with them.

Some classic indicators of county lines involvement and exploitation are listed below:

  • Persistently going missing from home or school and/or being found out of their area
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes or mobile phones
  • Excessive receipt of texts/phone calls
  • Relationships with controlling/older individuals or groups
  • Leaving care/home without explanation
  • Suspicion of physical assaults/unexplained injuries
  • Parental concerns
  • Carrying weapons
  • Significant decline in school results, performance and attendance
  • Gang association and/or isolation from peers or social networks
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well being

What to do if you are concerned

If you are a practitioner working with a vulnerable person, who you think may be at risk of county lines exploitation you should share your concerns with Torbay Social Services. For children under the age of 18 years contact the MASH and for young people 18 years and over and vulnerable adults contact the Safeguarding Adults Team. You should also share your concerns with the police using the Partner agency information sharing form.

If you believe a person is in immediate risk of harm you should contact the police as a matter of urgency through normal channels such as 999


What else you can do

Consult the Home Office’s new Child Exploitation Disruption Toolkit. This is aimed at frontline staff working to safeguard children and young people under the age of 18 from sexual and criminal exploitation (including law enforcement, social care, housing, education and voluntary sector organisations). It will help you understand and access existing legislative opportunities to target specific risks, such as warning notices, offence charges and care orders.

Consult the new guidance on submitting intelligence relating to child exploitation. Produced by the Children’s Society, Victim Support and the NPCC, this guide is for professionals and the community. Click here to access the guidance.

Learn more about county lines and its links to wider exploitation and vulnerability on the Preventing Exploitation Toolkit, a useful information resource and on-the-ground tool to help you report signs / suspicions about exploitation.

Raise awareness of county lines. You can access posters on the website

Contact SafeCall if you are concerned about a child or young person. SafeCall provides over-the-phone non-judgemental support for children and their families. With the agreement of the individual being referred, you can contact them by phone: 020 8392 4590 or Email: or visit the website: Missing People SafeCall service

Tell young people about Fearless, Crime Stopper’s anonymous reporting service for young people.

Direct adults to Crime Stoppers' anonymous reporting service; Phone: 0800 555 111 or visit the website: Crime Stoppers

County Lines: National issue, local problem

Download and display this poster in your workplace to raise awareness

County Lines Guidance Document

Guidance for front line workers

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