New Report: Between The Lines

Young people are being groomed locally – ‘on their door steps’ – as drug gangs and dealers adapt the way they work to exploit young people across county lines. A new report, Between The Lines, published today by the National Youth Agency (NYA) highlights:

  1. There is an increasing trend for gangs to target vulnerable young people in county-towns and rural areas, as well as moving young people across county lines.
  2. This has been supported by increased use and diversification of social media platforms to groom different types of young people in-county and across county lines.
  3. There is a lack of sufficient youth services and support for young people in many of the county towns and rural areas, with a concentration of diversionary projects in the urban cities where gangs operate from.

The report finds there is an increasing risk to young people from more affluent area or supported family backgrounds, and of girls and young women, who are less likely to be picked up by the police. Private and encrypted social media makes detection and protection difficult, and increases the reach of gangs to a wider number of young people. Increased grooming in local areas means that young people are missing for shorter periods, sometimes for only part of the school day, which puts them at risk of criminal exploitation.

NYA CEO Leigh Middleton said:

“The impact of Covid-19 has been to localise gang activities. A policing response helps close down county lines, and children’s protection services support those known to be most at risk from gangs. However, new lines open up, local dealers fill in the gaps and gangs change the way they work, targeting a new group of young people. There is more in-county grooming by urban gangs, enhanced by use of social media.

Just as gangs adapt, so services need to. Youth services can provide a safe space in local communities and trained youth workers. Outreach and street-based youth workers know their area, and are known and trusted by the young people in them. They are well placed to identify early and support young people at risk from county lines. Yet there is a distinct lack of adequate youth provision in many county towns and rural areas. There is little or no co-ordinate between youth services across county borders.”

He added: “By investing in youth services, not only will be we better know and support young people who are missing from the official statistics, we will stay one step ahead of the gangs by working locally to build community resilience and provide early help for young people.”

NYA is calling for:

  • Government guidance for violence reduction units (VRUs) with ring-fenced funding for detached, outreach and digitised youth work in county towns and rural areas.
  • Cross-boundary co-ordination between youth services, not simply a policing or social care response.
  • 10,000 qualified youth workers as part of a Youth Service Guarantee, alongside the national targets for 20,000 police officers.

A copy of the report ‘Between the Lines’ can be found in Research and Policy below:

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