County Lines

County lines exploitation is the process by which gangs, usually from large urban areas, supply drugs to suburban and rural locations using vulnerable children and young people to courier drugs and money. 

Children can be vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation for a wide range of factors from living in poverty to a desire to earn “street cred” amongst their peers.

Typically, gangs use mobile phone lines to facilitate drug orders and supply to users. They also use local property as a base; these often belong to a vulnerable adult and are obtained through force or coercion (known as ‘cuckooing’).

Possible signs and signals of county lines

  • returning home late, staying out all night or going missing.
  • being found in areas away from home.
  • coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled.
  • being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going.
  • having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.
  • unexplained absences from school, college, training, or work.
  • unexplained money, phone(s), clothes, or jewellery.
  • having a second, old phone (i.e., not a smart phone).
  • increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour.
  • have been the victim or perpetrator of serious violence (e.g., knife crime)
  • using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know.
  • have their bank account used to facilitate drug dealing.
  • increasing drug use or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them.
  • are exposed to techniques such as ‘plugging’, where drugs are concealed internally to avoid detection.

What should you do if you suspect a young person is involved in County Lines or other gang activities?

Members of staff will report this as a child protection issue to the Designated Safeguarding Lead. 

Parents/carers should raise concerns with the relevant pastoral team/s who can take advice on what next steps to take.  Alternatively, parents/carers can report concerns directly to the police or to MASH.

Members of the public should report County Lines or related concerns to the police or to MASH (020 8770 6001).

Further information


Protecting children from county lines | NSPCC Learning

The Children’s Society

County Lines Toolkit For Professionals | The Children’s Society (