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Fund new approaches to tackling county lines

County lines is a major issue, in which drug gangs come into rural areas from big cities, often exploiting vulnerable people by practices such as cuckooing – in which they take over people’s homes to use them as a base for their criminal activities.

This has emerged as a significant national and local issue during the last few years, and Dorset Police has been proactive in recognising, acknowledging and responding to the threat – as acknowledged in a 2018/19 inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

However, a 2018 Joint Targeted Area Inspection identified concerns regarding the wider partnership response to children and young people at risk of exploitation and county lines in the then Dorset County Council area. The inspection looked at the multi-agency response to child sexual exploitation, children associated with gangs and at risk of exploitation and children missing from home, care or education in Dorset. The report identified the following areas for priority action:

• The local authority must ensure actions and decision-making for the most vulnerable children are robust and ensure the response matches the degree of risk.
• The local authority must put in place a mechanism to ensure children who are still at risk, or for whom the extent of the risk is unknown, do not have their involvement with children’s social care prematurely closed.
• The partnership must put in place a mechanism to ensure intelligence in relation to criminal exploitation and risks associated with county lines is collected, shared, analysed and acted on to provide an effective multi-agency response for children.

As a result of this, the Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards (LSCBs) arranged an awareness raising conference for partners in November 2018. Working with the LSCBs, the PCC also identified this as an opportunity to host an associated Problem Solving Forum to discuss ideas in response to the challenges

Following the county lines problem solving forum a significant amount of work has taken place.

Improve co-ordination and information sharing – Initial work by the local Community Safety Partnerships, the new pan-Dorset Safeguarding Children Partnership, Adult Safeguarding Boards and the OPCC has supported the implementation of the Children At Risk Or Linked to Exploitation (CAROLE)model. This has implemented new partnership structures to identify risk and share data to enable more effective support for children and young people affected.

Child Exploitation Transformational Lead (CETL) – Crucial to these new arrangements is the CETL coordinator posted, funded for one year by the PCC. The new lead reports to the Dorset Safeguarding Children Partnership and oversees the arrangements across partner agencies to prevent or reduce the risk of exploitation of children and adults. The post has been funded for one year by the OPCC.

Early engagement and diversion – As identified in separate commitments, the PCC has undertaken work to explore and commission youth mentoring and diversion schemes. These have the dual aims of diverting young people at risk of offending from entering the criminal justice system, while identifying and working with young people at risk of exploitation. Work with the Dorset Combined Youth Offending Service has also resulted in BCP and Dorset Councils reviewing their services as part of restructures and establishing a ‘lead professional’ approach, ensuring the most appropriate agency is providing proper support to vulnerable young people.

In addition to this, the PCC continues to work with partners to improve responses to vulnerability, including those relating to county lines.

This includes continuing to promote and raise awareness of the issues and how they affect Dorset, and engaging with partners to develop a multi-agency child exploitation strategy which the PCC hopes will eventually become an ‘all-age’ strategy.

It also includes exploring technological solutions that may assist with managing vulnerability, such as a digital platform for sharing information, and continuing to explore what support is available, particularly from the voluntary and community sector, to ensure these resources are used most effectively.  

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