More than four in five parents fear their children could be exploited to sell drugs in their local area, a survey found.
The poll, commissioned by the Children’s Society, revealed that 84 percent of parents are concerned about their children being coerced into county lines drug dealing, with the same proportion also worried about their children being groomed online by people who want to criminally exploit them, The Independent reported.
But the charity’s survey of 2,000 parents, foster parents and legal guardians found many parents were not knowledgeable about child criminal exploitation and about what to do if they have concerns. Almost half of parents said they were uncertain of what to do if they were concerned about someone grooming a child in their community.
More than a third of parents said not enough was being done to target criminals targeting children for exploitation.
A recent study by the University of Nottingham revealed the pandemic continued to have a significant impact on efforts to safeguard children subsequently affecting their vulnerability to be exploited in county line gangs.
A mother supported the Children’s Society said her 14-year-old son was forced to take part in robberies, would go missing and was found with large quantities of drugs on him. She fears he has been groomed into drug dealing.
“I didn’t know anything about this kind of exploitation before this happened,” the woman, named only as Tina, said.
“The signs were there. He was going off with strangers. He had things they had given him, probably as a reward. I was being told there were people who wanted to kill him. I’d put the news on and hear about boys of his age being stabbed and I was scared that would be him.”
The Children’s Society called on the government to introduce a national strategy to tackle child criminal exploitation and funding to support vulnerable young people and families.
Mark Russell, chief executive at the Children’s Society, said, “Exploitation can wreck young lives and put children in enormous danger. Successive lockdowns have left many feeling isolated, struggling with their mental health and worried about everything from the pandemic to family finances.
“These children are still being criminalised rather than recognised as victims,” he added.
“Far more needs to be done to ensure professionals are able to offer the early help children desperately need before they become trapped in a cycle of exploitation and long-term support when this sadly happens,” he said.
Earlier this month the government announced a new £300mln drugs strategy to disrupt county lines drug dealing and organised crime.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the police county lines programme had already closed down 1,500 “lines” responsible for spreading drugs from the cities to every corner of the country, making more than 7,400 arrests and safeguarding more than 4,000 vulnerable adults and children.
The new campaign will aim to dismantle a further 2,000 county line operations over the next three years.