You may have seen on the news that there have been a number of “County Lines” arrests recently, as police crackdown on drugs gangs, but the sad truth is that this is happening across our country. Drugs gangs are exploiting vulnerable people to distribute dangerous drugs across “county lines” and the level of violence has rocketed and it needs to stop.

Young People are an easy target for these criminal gangs as they are still strongly affected by peer pressure and often struggle to communicate their fears and insecurities and this can spiral, but what are some of the signs to look out for?

● Changes in behaviour, such as being more withdrawn or a feeling that they are hiding something
● Changes to routine, are they going missing from home or school/college
● Having more money, or expensive items that they shouldn’t be able to afford
● Travelling alone to more distant places where they haven’t been before
● Unexplained injuries or suspicion of self-harm
● Suspicion of drug and alcohol use
● Meeting with unfamiliar adults
● Multiple mobile phones, tablets or SIM cards

CFSW is developing a dedicated one to one mentoring programme for young people to help tackle the growing problem, to re-engage them with family and education and to avoid exclusion from school. Working alongside multi-agency Gang Task Forces in local authorities and Education providers, our senior mentors and youth mentors will help to keep these young people safe and identify any mental health and other issues that may relate to their experience. This in turn will help to prevent them from ending up in the care system or criminal justice system.

Lasting mentoring programmes are a critical tool for supporting young people impacted by gang association and violence, but it’s important that these programmes are implemented at the right time and by the right people.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has recently reported on the impact of mentoring on the lives of young vulnerable people. Her findings highlight the importance of long lasting and well delivered mentoring programmes in order to help the victims of “county lines” gangs break free. It’s so important to remember that these young people are victims and therefore need social care and support, rather than criminalising and by providing this protection and support, it in turn tackles the problem of criminal gangs at source. However, with the number of individuals entering the care system rising, this has put pressure on Local Authority care systems who do not always have sufficient resources to deal as effectively as they would wish, with the effects of criminal exploitation.

It is crucial to identify and act quickly in order to safeguard these vulnerable individuals and to help to get them back on track. So how do we help?
Once a young person is targeted and exploited, it’s important to realise that it’s not too late and that with the right support they can escape what can be a very dangerous and damaging situation.

The CFSW Youth Mentoring Service is being developed to meet some of the needs of young people who are impacted by gang culture. Matching them with an experienced Youth Mentor will give them the tools and self confidence to maintain, or re-build relationships at home and to focus on work and school, making them less susceptible to exploitation.
Youth Mentors will work with parents/carers and all involved professionals, including teachers, to improve academic achievement, self-esteem, social skills and ultimately avoid/reduce high-risk or harmful youth behaviours. We have seen many young people turn their lives around with the help of our services.

Youth Mentoring services are monitored and quality assured by a senior social worker. With a 24/7 out of hours service, we provide further safeguarding assurance to the family and professionals involved, working in conjunction with Local Authority Emergency Duty teams who would be immediately made aware of any concerns.

How can you help?

The challenge we face is the intensive work involved to ensure that these young people can be provided with the impactful support they need from early years through to young adults. This will serve to protect from gang membership and violence or other forms of exploitation, giving them the capacity and the confidence they need to make the right decisions for themselves.

If you feel that Mentoring is something that you would like to find out more about, please get in touch and we can discuss what it takes to make a life changing difference in a young person`s life. If you would like to help a positive response to reduce exploitation of young people in our communities, then contact us on 01473 725794.

Or do you work for a local authority supporting young people involved with gangs or exploited in some other way, and feel we could offer support? Please get in touch, and we would be happy to help.