The Push Factors for County Lines
While young people aged 14-17 are most likely to be recruited by county lines gangs, there are reports of children as young as seven being groomed. County lines gangs exist throughout the UK and can target children from any background. However, exploiters usually seek out young people who are marginalised and vulnerable and there is evidence of a strong link between children outside mainstream education and county lines.
According to the Home Office, “gangs wishing to exploit young people target them in arenas where they are likely to have reduced monitoring and supervision such as Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) and Children’s Homes.”
It explains that “the exclusion of vulnerable young people from full time school, whether placing them on reduced timetables, putting in place home schooling arrangements, or removing them to PRUs exacerbates their vulnerability and increases the risk of being targeted by gangs for exploitation.
In some areas, PRUs become the arena for gang rivalries which become dangerous for pupils and hard for staff to manage. PRUs are also viewed as the place where already vulnerable young people get first-hand exposure to and experience of crime (drug dealing /violence /intimidation/ recruitment for ‘county lines’). There are growing numbers of excluded children in alternative provision and this clustering together is creating a recruiting arena for crime and anti-social behaviour.”
Sometimes children deliberately get excluded from school in order to get allocated to a PRU so they can recruit more pupils into selling drugs. At other times, gang members wait outside PRU gates on the lookout for the most vulnerable children to target.
The school to exclusion to prison pipeline disproportionately affects children from Black and Brown communities. The Commission on Young Lives recently found that Black boys in care are more likely to enter the youth justice system, and this problem is worsening as the number of Black boys going into care rises.