North East Lincolnshire Council set up a partnership board to tackle county lines drug-dealing two years ago. The move has prompted a series of new initiatives, including the appointment of a link worker, training for health staff and projects to support victims. This case study is an example of how councils are tackling youth violence.
North East Lincolnshire Council became aware of child criminal exploitation as a local issue in the spring of 2015. This became apparent following the emergence of children reporting exploitation and several violent incidents. An analysis revealed a link to drug supply and the exploitation of children.
During the following weeks and months multi-agency meetings were held to begin to understand the issues facing the area. In the autumn North East Lincolnshire Council took part in a Home Office peer review.
It concluded that while the area was not demonstrating typical youth gang violence traits, it did have county lines difficulties. An action plan was formed.
One of the first steps taken was the formation of a Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) Partnership Board. It was set up in 2016 and is composed of representatives from the police, council, health and other partnership agencies.
The creation of the board soon prompted changes, including the appointment of a CCE link worker at the council, while the police identified a police community support officer who acted as the conduit for them.
Together they have worked closely to ensure that workforce development and knowledge around the agenda has been a primary consideration.
GPs and other primary care staff have been given training to ensure they know what to look out for. Child Criminal Exploitation Lead Trish Leivesley said: “We needed professionals to become curious, to start asking questions. The young people were presenting to them with these injuries that they were saying were related to accidents. They were being patched up and sent away.”
Police officers, social workers and health staff have also been given an easy-to-use screening tool to help identify those at risk of being exploited through county lines. Safeguarding level two training on exploitation and trafficking has also been rolled out.
Meanwhile, projects have been undertaken with groups of young people involved in county lines exploitation. These include theatre and photography-based projects. So far 11 children have taken part in these.
Mrs Leivesley said: “They have given the young people a chance to explore their feelings and talk about their experiences. When you do this, you can then help them to come to terms with what has happened and get them the right support whether that is from the youth offending team, mental health or social care. The opportunities to capture the child’s experience have been taken and used to inform practice.”
The work has begun to have an impact. North East Lincolnshire has been commended by a recent Home Office peer review in 2018. The report praised the area for taking steps to “identify and address” the issue and “successfully” implementing changes.
It said the partnership appeared “strong and well informed”, with Manchester, Merseyside, London and the West Midlands identified as the routes in.
Mrs Leivesley said the partnership’s understanding of county lines and how it affects the area has “increased significantly”.
The work on county lines has required a change in culture, said Mrs Leivesley. “At first the language used confirmed that the children were not perceived as victims.’’
She said it was similar to the issue CSE several years ago where professionals referred to victims as sex workers or promiscuous. Changing the language used has been important.
“You immediately start to ask what you can do for them. You can use modern-day slavery legislation to support them and intervene with perpetrators.”
How the approach is being sustained
The council has been successful in gaining funding from the Home Office’s Trusted Relationships Fund. The council and its partners are utilising the funding to establish a new team called Gaining Respect and Finding Trust (GRAFT).
This project will include mental health specialists, a Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET) practitioner and other experts to work directly with children and support them to attempt to exit exploitation.
Meanwhile, Humberside Police has pledged its commitment to the threat by creating a new team to tackle the perpetrators of child criminal exploitation.
The council recognises that intervening at an earlier stage is crucial. Earlier this year a mapping exercise was carried out looking at the characteristics of 73 children exploited through organised crime.
Several common themes emerged. Some 94 per cent were in alternative education provisions, all had used drugs, over half had presented with injuries and just under half admitted to carrying a weapon.
Mrs Leivesley said: “We are making progress, but we know we don’t have all the answers yet. The new investment will allow us to do much more. Three particular areas of focus are housing, education and engaging with communities.”
Child Criminal Exploitation Lead, North East