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Drug gangs targeting Devon children

Report to be discussed by council today.

The last 12 months has seen an increased risk of children living in Devon being targeted and becoming involved in the Dangerous Drug Networks who are supplying drugs into towns and villages through child criminal exploitation.

Initially young people aged 15-17 who live outside the area were being exploited, but a report to Devon County Council’s Children’s Scrutiny Committee states that the county and its children are being increasingly targeted by gangs.

A multi-agency group, “The County Lines Strategic Forum”, was set up with representatives across all partners to ensure a cohesive response to this threat, the report of Rachel Gillott, Locality Director (South), Children’s Services, adding that protocols were put in place to ensure children found subject to this exploitation were viewed as victims and protected.

Mrs Gillott’s report says that disruption activity was undertaken by the police with a multi -agency response to ensure that Devon was a ‘hostile environment’ for this form of activity, and the work has been viewed by the Government as innovative and is being copied by other Local Authorities across Britain.

Funding to undertake a project in Exeter and a project in South Devon with a joint response from both Torbay Council and Devon County Council with the Safer Partnerships in both authorities to target the challenge of gang activity in South Devon has also been gained.

In September, Devon and Cornwall Police issued adult and youth civil gang injunctions against 11 teenagers, following fears over rising gang related behaviour in the Newton Abbot area, as part of Operation Turf.

The injunctions last for up two years and carry a number of conditions which are regularly reviewed. These conditions can include anything from exclusion zones to communication guidelines, and if the conditions are repeatedly broken, the court can issue a custodial sentence of up to three months to those under 18 and two years to those over 18.

 

WHAT ARE DANGEROUS DRUGS NETWORKS?

Dangerous Drug Networks (DDN’s), sometimes referred as County Lines, is the term for urban gangs supplying drugs into towns and villages through child criminal exploitation. This is the use of children from the urban source area or the targeting of local children and vulnerable adults to move both drugs and money.

Gangs having established a market base can typically take over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force, coercion and or deception in a term referred to as ‘cuckooing’, while child sexual, criminal and economic exploitation abuses occur when children and young people misplace their trust in peers and/or adults who exercise coercion over them through grooming, intimidation, debt bondage and violence for their own gains.

WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THE THREATS OF COUNTY LINES?

The Safer Devon Partnership has identified with Devon and Cornwall Police via the County Lines Serious Organised Crime Local Profile 2017 that initially young people aged 15-17 who live outside the area were being exploited. This is reflected in the fact that we have seen an increase in the number of modern slavery National Referral Mechanism referrals that involve young people who have been trafficked into Devon to sell drugs.

However, in the last 12 months there is an increased risk of local children being targeted and becoming involved. Children who are looked after and those involved with the Youth Offending Teams have an increased vulnerability to exploitation.

In Devon, there is growing evidence of the strong links between exploitation, missing, drugs, gangs and youth violence

WHAT TYPES OF EXPLOITATION ARE THERE?

Child exploitation is the act of using a child or young person for profit, labour, sexual gratification (virtual or in person), or some other personal or financial advantage. Child exploitation often results in cruel or harmful treatment of the child, as the activities he or she may be forced to take part in can cause trauma, emotional, physical, and social problems.

Gangs can typically recruit and exploit children and young people to courier drugs and cash either within their area or to another location across the Country. Gangs recruit through deception, intimidation, violence, debt bondage and/or grooming.

Sexual exploitation is also used in gangs to exert power and control over members, initiate young people into the gang, exchange sexual activity for status or protection, entrap rival gang members by exploiting girls and young women and  inflict sexual assault as a weapon in conflict.

WHAT IS THE STRATEGY?

The strategy says that exploitation of Children and Young People is located within a wider context of risk and harm and the scope of the strategy crosses the domains of child sexual exploitation, missing children, gangs and criminal exploitation as the Devon Children and Families Partnership (DCFP) and the Safer Devon Partnership (SDP) recognises that a broader view of safeguarding is required when considering exploitation of children and young people.

Mrs Gillott adds: “We need to ensure a joint response as child sexual, criminal and economic exploitation is rarely a solitary issue, concerns are often multi-faceted and interrelated. These types of abuse are extremely complex and often hidden.

“They occur when children and young people misplace their trust in peers and/or adults who exercise coercion over them through grooming, intimidation, debt bondage and violence for their own gains. The indicators for exploitation can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours’.

“Children and young people may not recognise the harm they are experiencing and may also be very reluctant to talk and as such all agencies, professionals and the wider community need to be alert to the signs of exploitation and be able to effectively respond.

“The scope of this strategy crosses the domains of child sexual exploitation, missing children, gangs, modern slavery and the Prevent Strategy and criminal exploitation as the Devon Children and Families Partnership (DCFP) and the Safer Devon Partnership (SDP) recognises that a broader view of safeguarding is required when considering exploitation of children and young people

“All forms of exploitation for either criminal or sexual gains are equally as abusive and destructive to a young person’s outcomes.

“As young people grow they spend increasing amounts of time with their peers independent of carer/parent supervision. During this period of exploration children and young people may be exposed to harmful situations or be vulnerable to abusive and exploitative relationships.

“To protect them a joint community and professional response is needed to identify the risks. Interventions need to include all the social environments where the exploitation and abuse occurs.

“The format to implement the wider strategy is based upon the 4 P’s used widely by police forces across the Country. The use of Prepare, Prevent, Protect and Pursue with expectations set out for each part. This enables a joint conversation with shared understanding.”

The report will be discussed by the Devon County Council’s Children’s Scrutiny Committee today (Monday 21st January).

 

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