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Lewisham Safeguarding Adults Board

Criminal Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: Updated County Lines Guidance

Criminal Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: Updated County Lines Guidance

The government has published refreshed County Lines Guidance. The guidance is primarily aimed at frontline staff who work with children, young people and potentially vulnerable adults.

If you’re a professional working in social care, education, health, housing, benefits, law enforcement (police) and related partner organisations this guidance is for you.

Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults is a geographically widespread form of harm that is a typical feature of county lines activity. It is a harm which is relatively little known about or recognised by those best placed to spot its potential victims.

The guidance is intended to explain the nature of this harm to enable you, the professional, to recognise its signs and respond appropriately so that potential victims get the support and help they need.

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

  • 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.

As so little is known about this type of abuse the national picture on county lines continues to develop but there are recorded cases of:

  • Both males and females being exploited;
  • White British children and young people being targeted because gangs perceive they are more likely to evade police detection but a person of any ethnicity or nationality may be exploited;
  • The use of social media to make initial contact with children and young people;
  • Class A drug users being targeted so that gangs can takeover their homes (known as ‘cuckooing’).

“Cuckooing” is an issue that has been raised as a concern by the Lewisham Safeguarding Adults Board, Housing Provider Sub-Group. The Sub-group will be working together to address this growing issue in Lewisham.

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

  • Having prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse;
  • 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;
  • Connections with other people involved in gangs;
  • Having a physical or learning disability;
  • Having mental health or substance misuse issues.

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

  • Persistently going missing from education or home and / or being found out-of-area;
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones;
  • Excessive receipt of texts / phone calls and/or having multiple handsets;
  • Relationships with controlling individuals or groups;
  • Leaving home / care settings without explanation;
  • Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries;
  • Carrying weapons;
  • Significant decline in education and activities / results / performance;
  • Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks;
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being.

What to do if you are concerned

Any practitioner working with a vulnerable person who they think may be at risk of county lines exploitation should follow their local safeguarding guidance and share this information with Lewisham Council’s social care services. If you believe a person is in immediate risk of harm, you should contact the police.

Use your local safeguarding process, the first step of which is usually to contact your designated safeguarding lead within your organisation.

If you don’t know who this is, refer to your manager. Your designated safeguarding lead has the responsibility for linking in with Lewisham’s social care services. If you are not satisfied with Lewisham Council’s response, you should follow up your concerns by discussing these with your safeguarding lead.

The Government has produced the schematic flowchart below which shows what should happen after you raise a concern. The white arrows represent the additional options to the prescribed process.

Read the full Guidance for more detailed information on County Lines exploitation.

Digital and promotional resources to support your work on addressing County Lines in Lewisham.


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