County Lines and the Early Years

An EYFS Safeguarding Guide to County Lines



County Lines and the early years, the new big topic that Ofsted are asking about during inspections.

And here is everything you need to know.

But first, welcome to the channel.

Intro Video

 Welcome to the channel Open a Nursery with myself Curtly Ania, where I support you to open, run and grow your own childcare business.

If this is your first time, make sure you subscribe, I post regular videos, all on the topic of childcare.  I have the expertise and do all  the research so you can just come to one place to learn and hopefully enjoy.

From How to pass your Ofsted inspection to how to open a nursery.  There’s lots here for you to watch.

But today we’re going over County lines and how it effects the early years and your safeguarding practice.

A few people have mentioned to me that it has come up in their recent inspections, in both registration visits and regular Ofsted inspections, and there’s not much guidance online around the topic.

So, I thought I would support you by covering this topic for you.

So, what is county lines?

‘County lines’ is a form of criminal exploitation of children and young people with a devastating effect on each individual’s life, their families and their community. Children as young as seven-years-old are groomed and coerced into trafficking drugs by criminal gangs around the country.

All educators need to understand County Lines and the impact it can have on young children and their families.

Although young children in Early Years may not be directly involved in County Lines, there may be family members, siblings, family friends or neighbours that are involved. Therefore, it is essential that adults working in Early Years have a strong understanding of County Lines and the risks involved to safeguard children in their setting.

I am seeing County Lines and the possible impact they may have on young children in your setting discussed more and more in Ofsted Inspections when looking at Safeguarding.

As well as getting involved with drugs, Children and young people may be criminally exploited in multiple ways. Other forms of criminal exploitation include child sexual exploitation, trafficking, gang and knife crime.

County lines gangs are highly organised criminal networks that use sophisticated, frequently evolving techniques to groom young people and evade capture by the police.

Perpetrators use children and young people to maximise profits and distance themselves from the criminal act of physically dealing drugs. Young people do the majority of the work and take the most risk.

Having an awareness of the certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a child, young person or an adult at risk being exploited can help to ensure the appropriate safeguards are in place. For example, certain areas of the country have a greater occurrence of child criminal or sexual exploitation, increasing the risk to children living in that area. Certain schools may also have high rates of student exclusion and being absent from school increases the risk of a child being exploited or groomed.

As a result, it is crucial that children, young people and adults at risk are in an environment that prioritises safeguarding.

The best thing that we can do to support our children is to help to prevent them getting involved in county lines. This is our main role as early years educators and nursery practitioners.

In early years, we can safeguard those at risk of exploitation and grooming by teaching them about healthy relationships. This can help potential victims learn the difference between a genuine relationship or friendship and someone who is manipulating them.

Engaging with parents and carers is also important.

Engaging with parents and carers can help protect children and young people who are at risk of criminal exploitation. Parents and carers need support to manage any risk to their child.

It’s important for us to understand what barriers might be in place for parents and carers. These might include fears around:

  • having their other children ‘taken away’ from them
  • their child being excluded from school
  • criminalising their child
  • recriminations from the county lines gang

As children get older, we can start to have actual discussions with them regarding county lines, how they might be targeted, the risks involved and what support there is for them.

Despite, it not directly effecting children in our care in early years and nurseries, as early years educators it is still important for us to know some of the signs to look out for that may indicate that someone is being exploited.

County lines usually effects children aged 14-17, but children as young as seven have been targerted.

Some signs to look out for include:

  • Regularly missing from home and school.
  • Often being found some distance away from home.
  • Having lots of train or bus tickets. 
  • Having unexplained injuries.
  • Owning several phones and receiving lots of calls and texts.
  • Being unable to explain their extra cash or expensive new items.
  • Having friendships with older people or gang associations.
  • Displaying negative changes in mood and behaviour.
  • Leaving the home or care setting without an explanation.
  • Parental concerns.
  • Being found in possession of drugs and/or weapons. 
  • A decline in school performance.
  • Isolation from peers or a change in social network activity.
  • Self-harm.
  • Being secretive, especially if this is out of character for them.
  • Being fearful, especially of going out of the house. 
  • Starting to use alcohol or drugs. 
  • Being involved in low level criminal offences. 

This list is not exhaustive and it can sometimes be hard to identify if someone is at risk. If you have any concerns, you should raise them and report them as soon as possible. 

Some of you may be in areas that are more likely to be affected by county lines or you may have families and children who are more vulnerable to be drawn into it.  So, take this into consideration too.

Responding to county lines early is very important.

Early intervention and prevention are highly important in County Lines as they can stop harm before it occurs. It involves recognising and reducing the risk factors in a person’s life, whilst working to implement and develop positive, protective elements.

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, so it is crucial that you know how to respond to disclosures and concerns. A disclosure refers to when a person tells someone of the harm that they, or someone else, is experiencing. A concern refers to something that is witnessed or an observation of certain signs and indicators of harm. If you witness one of the signs that someone is being exploited from the list above, this is a concern.

All disclosures and concerns need to be reported, you should never keep them to yourself. Remember to listen, remain calm, reassure the individual and inform them that you will have to pass the information on. You should also make a written record of what was said during the disclosure or what was witnessed, as soon as possible, to ensure accuracy.

Who you report the concern or disclosure to will vary depending on your setting. If you are in a setting where there is a designated safeguarding lead (DSL), you should inform them. If you are in an organisation without a DSL, you should inform your manager or supervisor. You may also need to report directly to your Local Authority.

If you feel there is an immediate risk of harm, you should ring 999 or 112. Remember, you are never alone and you must never keep any safeguarding issues or concerns to yourself. Even if your concerns do not turn out to be County Lines involvement, the individual may still be being exploited in some other way.

If you want more support around the topic of safeguarding, then check out the playlist on the screen now.  And if there is any topic you would like me to cover do let me know in the comments section.  I look forward to supporting you. God bless.

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