Hundreds of victims of county line exploitation will be helped to escape drug gangs following the expansion of support services in four priority locations – London, West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester – where young people are often targeted.
The Home Office has today (24 September) allocated up to £5million to better support young people and their families over the next three years and help them break free from the grip of vicious gangs counties.
A one-on-one specialist support service for young people under 25, provided by the non-profit organization Catch22, will safely establish contact with young people who have been referred by protection partners, such as the police and children’s services, and will work with them to exit their involvement in county line activity.
If under-25s are identified outside their hometown, a rescue service will be deployed to bring them home safely, providing them with a pivotal moment to engage with social workers and protect their future.
The service will also offer mental health support and counseling to young people and their families, to help them cope with the trauma of their experiences.
They will operate in the four largest export areas for county line activity, aligning with police forces that are part of the government’s county line program.
Home Secretary Jeremy Quin said:
I want victims of exploitation to know that we are on their side – and that there is a way out, a better future.
Since 2019, the government’s county lines program has closed 2,400 lines, made more than 8,000 arrests and engaged more than 9,500 people in protection interventions.
These services will be relentless in their goal to create safe routes for young people at risk and to rescue them from the grip of these ruthless county line gangs, opening up their future again.
As part of the support scheme, funding will also be allocated to continue the provision of the national confidential and anonymous ‘SafeCall’ helpline, provided across England and Wales by Missing People – including support tailor-made for parents and guardians. Since its inception in late 2017, the helpline has supported 480 young victims of county line exploitation and their families.
Catch22 Chief Executive Naomi Hulston said:
For children and young people victimized by county line activity, the impact on their lives – and the lives of those around them – is devastating. We know that grooming techniques are getting more and more advanced and that escaping the clutches of these attackers can be incredibly difficult. That is why, as part of this service, we will not only bring young people home safely, but we will support them to ensure that they can process their experiences and are protected from future harm.
Susannah Drury, Director of Policy and Development at Missing People, said:
SafeCall provides confidential and anonymous support to young victims of county line exploitation and their families – helping them to protect themselves, stay safe and cope with the challenges they face. Our team of experts are available from 9am to 11pm, 7 days a week to provide assistance via our free helpline – text or call 116000. Missing People are proud to provide the SafeCall service across England and the Country. of Wales to help young victims and their families through crisis and trauma.
County line activity refers to drug smuggling operations that often see children or vulnerable adults groomed to transport drugs from one city to other parts of the country, usually associated with extreme violence and coercive behavior.