County lines: Safeguarding alert as cases rise sharply

A county lines safeguarding alert has been issued to schools after a worrying spike in referrals nationally.

Home Office figures for the April to June period show that referrals to the National Referral Mechanism – the system for identifying victims of modern slavery – more than doubled from 199 to 409. Of these, 346 (85 per cent) were for children.

The period coincided with the Covid-19 lockdown and it is feared that many criminal gangs adapted their methods and took advantage of vulnerable children who were out of view of teachers, social workers and youth workers.

County lines refers to the use of children and vulnerable adults by individuals or gangs to transport and sell Class A drugs – mainly from urban areas into market or coastal towns. Children are also used to transport and hide weapons.

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