× Home About us Apprenticeships Employer engagement Health and Social Care Programmes Leadership and Management Programmes Advanced Learner Loans Learner support Join our team Contact us

Contact us 029 2079 9133

Learner newsletter

County Lines: Reality, not just drama


You may not have heard the term before, but you have more than likely come across county lines through a whole host of streaming platforms and TV programmes, such as Top Boy and Line of Duty. Whilst these programmes may dramatise the criminal nature of county lines, the reality is all around us on a daily basis and is far less glamourous.

So, what exactly are ‘county lines’?

County lines are the organised criminal distribution of drugs from big cities into smaller towns and rural areas. County lines organisations use exploitation to engage children and vulnerable people as ‘runners’ within the network, delivering and moving drugs, and also to carry out other roles. The networks predominantly focus on the distribution of so called ‘hard drugs’ such as heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines, although occasionally cannabis is also moved in this way. Disposable or ‘burner’ mobile phones are used to take orders. These are known as ‘deal lines’

County lines are linked to a number of other criminal activities such as:

Since the County Lines Programme launched in 2019:

(Source: www.gov.uk)

Who is vulnerable to exploitation by county lines organisations?

As described earlier, children and other vulnerable people are most at risk from exploitation, however, vulnerabilities can come in various forms. Any vulnerability is a potential target and this means that there is a broad profile for potential victims.


Whilst children as young as 12 have been identified as potential victims of exploitation by county lines organisations, the majority of referrals relate to males aged 15-16, a far narrower band.

Children who live in poverty, are excluded from school, attend Pupil Referral Units, or have involvement with social services are commonly targeted as they often respond to the material rewards such as cash, mobile phones and trainers/clothing as well as being attracted by the sense of belonging. That being said, children from more stable backgrounds are also targeted as they are far less likely to appear on any official agency’s radar, including the police, therefore reducing the likelihood of detection.

Vulnerable Adults

It is easy to assume that only vulnerable individuals with learning and developmental disabilities are at risk of exploitation. Whilst this is a key vulnerable group, individuals suffering from mental health conditions, substance addiction, homelessness, in debt bondage and with previous experiences of abuse and neglect, are also at risk.

Once exploited, vulnerable adults may not necessarily carry out a “runner” role for the criminal organisation - they are particularly susceptible to a practice called “cuckooing”. Cuckooing is where drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for county lines drug trafficking. These houses may then also be used for other crime such as the sexual exploitation of girls and young women and the storage of illegal weapons and money.

What are the signs of county lines exploitation?

A young or vulnerable person’s involvement in county lines activity often leaves signs. A person might exhibit some of these signs, either as a member or as an associate of a gang dealing drugs.

(Source: www.gov.uk)

Prevention – what can we do?

The key to preventing county lines exploitation is no different to preventing many other kinds of safeguarding concerns; education, vigilance, reporting and support.

Click here for more information

If you have concerns that someone you know may be being criminally exploited or is at risk of any form of exploitation, please contact the Safeguarding Team by filling out the contact form via “Report a Safeguarding Concern” button on the t2 group website or emailing safeguarding@t2group.co.uk


Contact us


If you have any questions or require any help please don't hesitate to get in touch with us at t2 group. Simply complete the following form and we will be in touch with you shortly.

t2 group

t2 group
Head Office - Fern House, Unit 1 Links Court,
Fortran Road, St.Mellons,
Cardiff CF3 0LT

029 2079 9133

Legal information

Report a Safeguarding Concern

Safeguarding iconNeed to report a Safeguarding concern? Click here.

Connect with us

The Apprenticeship, traineeship and jobs growth Wales programmes, led by the Welsh Government, are supported by the European Social Fund

Acumen Coaching

Acumen Coaching is a specialist Leadership and Management Division of the t2 group.

t2 group and Acumen Coaching are part of the Marr Corporation Ltd.