What is county lines and how can I protect my child?

County lines is a type of criminal exploitation where gangs send a young person away from their local area to sell drugs. Gangs coordinate activity through a dedicated phone line known as a ‘county line’. 

Spotting early warning signs can help protect your child.  

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Learn about county lines

Gangs sometimes recruit young people via social media, for example by offering them the opportunity to earn money. They will let young people believe they belong in the gang. Young people may not understand exactly what’s happening. 

Gangs give young people a phone, often known as a burner phone. They use this to contact the young person and set up deals.  

A young person may make small deliveries at first, then tasks get bigger after that. They could receive gifts and drugs that put them in debt. Some may take health risks by hiding drugs in their body. 

County lines can also be called ‘running a line’, ‘going OT’, ‘going out of town’, ‘going country’ or ‘going cunch’. PACE has some information on other slang words you might hear. 

Educate your child

Having honest chats with your child can help them avoid exploitation. Help them learn to judge different situations – try discussing possible scenarios. Talk about what they could look out for and how they would handle it. For example, what would they do if someone they didn’t know tried to connect with them on social media and said they knew one of their other friends? 

Open up the conversation

If you’re worried that your child might be at risk, it’s a good idea to: 

  • Look for changes in your child’s behaviour – if you see anything, speak to them about it and explain why you’re worried.  
  • Approach the situation with compassion – if they’re involved in something, consider how the situation might have happened.  
  • Show your child that you are keen to understand and help. 
  • Ask a trusted adult to have a chat with them. 

Read our advice on how to talk to your child about difficult topics. 

If your child is carrying a knife

If your child is carrying a knife, don’t assume they intended to use it. Gang members can sometimes encourage your child to carry a knife. Or it may be because they don’t feel safe. 

Try to help your child find safe routes to and friends’ houses. Speak to your child about the facts of knife crime and how they can look after themselves.  

If your child is involved in county lines

Worries about exploitation and gangs can be stressful. Talk to your child first to understand the situation and if you can help. This may be difficult for your child. They may feel they are protecting you by keeping quiet, especially if someone had threatened them. They might also worry about getting into trouble.   

Let them know that there’s nothing they can say that will make them you love them less. Reassure them that you can work through things together. You can also get support from:  

  • Local children’s services.  
  • Your local social work team. 
  • Childline – online advice, message boards, or speak to someone.  
  • Crimestoppers (0800 555 111) – to report concerns anonymously.  
  • The Mix – support for under-25s.  
  • Talk to Frank – offers advice if you’re concerned about your child using drugs.  
  • Gangs Line – legal advice if your child has been arrested for a gang-related incident.  
  • Teachers at your child’s school. 
  • The police, especially if there is a concern around criminal exploitation.  
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