Foster carers face the challenge – like all parents – of having to keep abreast of the myriad number of risks that face children and young people. In the UK, county lines are increasingly becoming a problem in our towns and cities. Vulnerable children and that clearly includes foster children, are being ruthlessly exploited. What does the term ‘County Lines’ actually mean? It describes the activities of drug gangs based in the cities who conduct their activities in smaller towns. They often use violence and intimidation to drive out the local competition. The most common drugs that are supplied to users are cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, MDMA cannabis and amphetamines. Drug runners are used to convey the drugs and collect money. The dealers who use the runners will be in a different area altogether. These operations are highly organised. A county line may be linked through a series of unique mobile phone numbers known as ‘deal lines’. The use of multiple phone numbers means the activities can be continued if a disruption occurs because a particular mobile is shut down.
Children and young people are recruited by gangs in different ways. Increasingly the use of social media is relied upon to target youngsters between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. There are instances where children as young as eight have been involved. The evidence clearly suggests that children are used because they are unlikely to be known to the authorities. And when caught they receive light sentences usually non-custodial. County lines groups are skilled at manipulating vulnerable youngsters such as foster children. Often they will use younger children to identify other children through either social media or personal links. Some of this activity will be going on inside schools which is why staff need to be particularly vigilant – as well as foster carers. Once recruited, youngsters are forced to take drugs to urban locations and sell them to local users. These groups use a variety of methods to intimidate those they have recruited. And such techniques can be cynical in the extreme. An example of this is creating ‘drug debts’. Here, a child who is carrying drugs, money – usually both will be robbed. This will have been staged but the youngster is told they now ‘owe’ debt to the group. Coercion like this is accompanied by the more usual threats of violence. To create fear, knives, acid and sometimes even firearms will be on display. It is of major concern that weapons such as these are routinely used. Imitation firearms, crossbows and knuckle dusters shore up a sense and culture of violence that young children can find impossible to escape.
If drugs or money go missing and this has not been staged, retribution will be violent and swift. County lines groups organise their operations around a framework of fear. This can even extend to making threats against the family members of those young people they have recruited.
Foster carers need to be aware that these gangs seek out the vulnerable. Children with mental health issues or special educational needs are often ‘groomed’. Children with obvious vulnerabilities such as poverty, family breakdown and engagement with social services are at risk. Children who truant or have behavioural disorders will also come to the attention of county lines groups. This is why the rising number of school exclusion is a particular problem. The National Crime Agency’s report form 2018 highlighted the specific risks faced by foster children. This is because such children will not regard themselves as victims or even be aware they are being drawn into criminal activity. And because many will have experienced instability and led chaotic lives, they are attracted by the sense of ‘family’ and belonging gang membership can seem to offer. For more background information visit – https://nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/who-we-are/publications/257-county-lines-drug-supply-vulnerability-and-harm-2018/file
Looking out for the signs.
If you are a foster carer providing a home for a looked after child or teenager, these are some of the signs to be aware of –
Foster parents need to be constantly vigilant. If they notice any of the signs above they should notify their own and the child’s social worker. It is important to be non-judgmental: overreaction could have the effect of driving a child or young person away. It’s important to always remember that they are victims and are being exploited by criminals.
Rainbow is recruiting in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire.
Rainbow is an independent fostering agency with offices and foster carers working to improve the lives of vulnerable children in our major cities. We are rated as ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by Ofsted and have been recruiting foster carers and providing loving family homes for over 20 years. we are looking for applicants to train to foster teenagers, siblings of all ages and young parents who come into care with their own babies or very small children.
We also want to find people interested d in fostering therapeutically. When their start in life has been traumatic, children can be left suffering both developmentally and emotionally. This means they will come into care with complex needs and sometimes challenging behaviour. Therapeutic foster carers receive special training and support to provide security and stability so such children can start to flourish.
Why choose Rainbow as your fostering agency?
Our knowledge and experience have been built up over more than two decades. We have foster carers transferring to us who understand that we always go that extra mile to support our fostering families. Quite a few of our foster carers have been with us for over ten years. You can see what a vibrant and welcoming community we are by requesting our annual Christmas Newsletter. It’s filled with information and stories about the agency and its foster carers.
We offer a wide range of training courses time specifically at building the knowledge and expertise of our foster carers. We want you to be as professional in your approach as we provide ourselves as being.
If all this sounds like what you are looking for please call now on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311. We won’t bombard you with information – we will take all the time needed to understand fully all your motivations to foster. Fostering isn’t for everyone: it is a challenging job. When done well, it can be rewarding beyond words.
We like to keep our carers updated with all that is going on in the fostering world. We have a news section on our website and regularly post informative – sometimes thought-provoking blogs. Please feel free always to contact us with any feedback or suggestions. http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/ And our latest blog recommendation http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/therapeutic-foster-care-6/