A report has revealed how children in North Wales care are being exploited for county lines drug dealers.
Crime and justice specialists Crest Advisory produced the study “County Lines and Looked After Children”, which raised concerns vulnerable youngsters were not being protected properly, from the clutches of criminal gangs.
North Wales AM Mark Isherwood raised the issue in the Senedd this week and said it needed urgent attention.
The key findings of the report were:
- Almost all known ‘county lines’ activity in North Wales originates in Merseyside
- The lines travel into North Wales in two ways: firstly, into Flintshire and Wrexham local authorities; and secondly, to coastal towns including Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Abergele, Llandudno, and Bangor
- Although looked-after children are taken into local authority care to improve their welfare, they are overrepresented in child criminal County Lines exploitation and are therefore far from being effectively safeguarded
- Children placed in residential care homes and unregulated settings are at a higher risk of going missing, with 31% of missing incidents in North Wales in the last two years reported from care
- Although looked after children are disproportionately represented in county lines networks, they are not being systematically identified by police or local authorities
The report concluded: “This continuing systemic failure to provide suitable accommodation for vulnerable adolescents places them in networks of similarly vulnerable looked after children.
“As a consequence there is a serious concern amongst experts and professionals that the experience of care may amplify rather than reduce the risks they face of serious harm.”
The report asked: “Is it right that they are often placed in accommodation hundreds of miles from home?”
It added: “Police officers working on county lines operations we spoke to told us of cases in which highly vulnerable looked after children, many of whom had come into care because of previous exploitation and extra familial abuse, were placed in accommodation in their police force area only to go missing after subsequent exploitation.
“Those children were then placed back into residential accommodation and re-exploited elsewhere. We have also also heard troubling accounts of young people in this position who go on to groom and exploit others in turn.”
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It made a series of recommendations including urging a national strategy to combat child criminal exploitation (CCE), intensive fostering models for vulnerable youths, an end to unregulated care homes for looked-after children and placing them far away from their homes.
Mr Isherwood said:“I think this is an urgent matter, a pressing matter, and one that must not be overlooked because of Covid.”
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