Gangs and County Lines

What is a street gang?

A gang is usually considered to be a group of people who spend time in public places that

  • see themselves (and are seen by others) as a noticeable group, and
  • engage in a range of criminal activity and violence.
  • They may also have any or all of the following features
    • identify with or lay a claim over territory,
    • are in conflict with other, similar gangs

Why do young people want to belong to a gang?

Here are some of the reasons young people might give for being in a gang:

  • identity
  • a sense of belonging
  • they think it will make them safer
  • they think they will make money

Bonding and group identity are an important part of social life and growing up. But when a bond is based around crime, violence is usually not far away.

Children and young people involved with, or on the edges of, gangs might be victims of violence or they might be pressured into doing things like robbery or carrying drugs or weapons. They might be abused, exploited or put into dangerous situations.

What is 'County lines'?

County lines’ is the term used to describe the approach taken by gangs originating from large urban areas, who travel to locations elsewhere such as county or coastal towns to sell class A drugs. Gangs typically recruit and exploit children and vulnerable young people to courier drugs and cash. Typically, users ask for drugs via a mobile phone line used by the gang. Couriers travel between the gang’s urban base and the county or coastal locations on a regular basis to collect cash and deliver drugs. Gangs recruit children and young people through deception, intimidation, violence, debt bondage and/or grooming.  Gangs also use local property as a base for their activities, and this often involves taking over the home of a vulnerable adult who is unable to challenge them.

County lines cuts across a number of issues including: drug dealing, violence, gangs, exploitation, safeguarding, modern slavery and missing persons. It is critical that practitioners working directly with children and vulnerable adults are aware of what county lines is, how to identify those at risk or involved in county lines exploitation and what action to take. Please read more in the core brief from the DfE (March 2017) in Resources below and in the Home Office Guidance about County Lines (July 2017).

How can you help a child involved in a gang?

Always consider other often related risks such as CSE, going Missing from home or care or radicalisation when you have a concern about gang affiliation or county line involvement. Please see the Young People at Risk Strategy below.

If you are worried about a child, contact the Integrated Referral Hub:

If you are a professional, please always follow up your referral in writing by filling in the Multi-Agency Referral Form (MARF) and forward it to the email address above.

If a child is at immediate risk of significant harm, please dial 999


Young People at Risk Strategy

The LSCB published a Young People at Risk Strategy which sets out our ambition and resolve for young people to be free from the risk of

  • CSE
  • Missing from home, care or education
  • Serious Youth Violence
  • Involvement with gangs and/ or County Lines
  • Radicalisation

It was launched at the YPAR conference in October 2017, please see the keynote speaker presentations below and a brief video from the conference:


Serious Youth Violence Strategy (HM Government, April 2018) sets out the government’s response to serious violence and recent increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicide.

Ending gang violence and exploitation sets out the 6 priorities of the new cross-government approach to ending gang violence and exploitation (2016).

Safeguarding Children affected by Gang Activity / Serious Youth Violence (London Child Protection Procedures)