County lines crime: what is a nurse's role in safeguarding children?
Childrens nurses can help prevent vulnerable young people from being exploited by gangs involved in drug trafficking
Tackling county lines crime was made a priority by the UK government in 2018. Its Serious Violence Strategy defines county lines as gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of deal line ( HM Government 2018 ). The term county line refers to the phone line used to take orders for drugs ( National Crime Agency (NCA) 2020 ).
Children’s nurses can help prevent vulnerable young people from being exploited by gangs involved in drug trafficking
Tackling county lines crime was made a priority by the UK government in 2018. Its Serious Violence Strategy defines county lines as ‘gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”’ (HM Government 2018). The term county line refers to the phone line used to take orders for drugs (National Crime Agency (NCA) 2020).
The development of county lines enables drug dealers from cities to sell their drugs in distant locations where there are less saturated markets and less competition (Robinson et al 2019).
Coomber and Moyle (2018) identify three commonly used terms: commuting (where the dealer travels to new areas to distribute drugs), holidaying (where dealers stay for short periods in the area before returning to their hub) and cuckooing (where a dealer takes over accommodation in their new location and uses it as a local dealing base).
County lines exploit children and young people to move and store drugs and money
Although the term county lines has been recognised on a national level, many children and young people involved may know it under another name, such as ‘going out there’, ‘trapping’ or ‘going country’ (Robinson et al 2019).
County lines exploit children and young people to move and store drugs and money, and coercion, intimidation, violence – including sexual violence – and weapons can be used (HM Government 2018).
Children and young people are often enticed into distributing and selling drugs through ‘gifts’, including drugs, clothing or money, and are then forced to continue when they become indebted to the gang or through violence (Robinson et al 2019).
Children as young as 12, both boys and girls, are at risk of exploitation
Children and young people tend to be used in the lower levels of county lines organisations, as ‘sitters’ who remain resident in the host towns and ‘runners’ who deal drugs at street level (Spicer 2019).
Children as young as 12, boys and girls, are at risk of exploitation (Robinson et al 2019), although fewer county lines offences are recorded for females (Windle et al 2020). Where females are involved, Moyle (2019) describes the ‘boyfriend model’, in which a drug dealer will form a relationship with a female before coercing her into criminal behaviour.
Children and young people are not always forced or coerced into illicit activity and some enter into it voluntarily, but this still leaves concern over their exposure to danger, criminality, drug misuse and corruption (NCA 2020).
Stay up to date with local safeguarding procedures
Boys aged 14-17 are targeted frequently, with boys most at risk of exploitation including those with welfare needs, ‘looked after’ children, those known to child social care or youth offending teams, and those whose parents or carers have mental health issues (Windle et al 2020).
Children’s nurses need to be able to recognise and refer those at risk of exploitation, such as those who display a sudden change in mood, an involvement in substance misuse, or criminal behaviour, going missing for periods of time or those with a sudden increase in money or expensive new items (NCA 2020).
For advice or support about those who may be involved in county lines, nurses should contact local safeguarding leads or teams and remain up to date with local safeguarding procedures.
This article has been subject to external open peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software
- Coomber R, Moyle L (2018) The changing shape of street-level heroin and crack supply in England: commuting, holidaying and cuckooing drug dealers across ‘county lines’. The British Journal of Criminology. 58, 6, 1323–1342. doi: 10.1093/bjc/azx068
- HM Government (2018) Serious Violence Strategy. HM Government, London.
- Moyle L 2019) Situating vulnerability and exploitation in street-level drug markets: cuckooing, commuting, and the “county lines” drug supply model’. Journal of Drug Issues. 49, 4, 739-755. doi.org/10.1177/0022042619861938
- National Crime Agency (2020) County Lines. NCA, London.
- Robinson G, McLean R, Densley J (2019) Working county lines: child criminal exploitation and illicit drug dealing in Glasgow and Merseyside. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 63, 5, 694-711. doi.org/10.1177/0306624X18806742
- Spicer J (2019) 'That’s their brand, their business’: how police officers are interpreting county lines. Policing and Society. 29, 8, 873-886. doi.org/10.1080/10439463.2018.1445742
- Windle J, Moyle L, Coomber R (2020) ‘Vulnerable’ kids going country: children and young people’s involvement in county lines drug dealing. Youth Justice. doi.org/10.1177/1473225420902840
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