County lines exploitation is ‘sad reflection’ on state of child protection – Lord Laming

Exploitation of vulnerable youngsters by drugs gangs is a “sad reflection” of the current state of child protection services, a former watchdog has said.

Lord Laming, who served as chief inspector of social services and has headed a number of high-profile inquiries including into the notorious Victoria Climbie case, pointed out some of the children snared in criminal county lines operations were in local authority care.

The independent crossbencher has called on ministers to review the quality of child protection provision.

His intervention came after a police chief warned the criminal exploitation of children was “almost back to Victorian times”.

Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Shaun Sawyer, who is the national policing lead for modern slavery, recently said a reduction in state-run youth services has left a void between the “school gate and the front door” which criminals are exploiting.

The term “county lines” refers to the mobile phone lines dedicated to taking orders from drug users, which are operated by criminals from big cities who have expanded into smaller towns.

They are known for forcing young and vulnerable people into crime by using them to act as drug runners.

Speaking at Westminster, Lord Laming (pictured) said: “Here we are talking about some of the most vulnerable children in our society and some of them are actually in the care of local authorities.

“Would the minister agree that this is a sad reflection of the current state of the child protection services in this country?

“Isn’t it time we looked again at the quality of child protection standards?”

Earlier, Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford told peers: “County lines exploitation has a devastating impact on our communities.

“We are working to disrupt county lines gangs and end the exploitation of children and vulnerable adults.

“This includes investing £20 million into a new package of measures to crack down on these gangs.”

She added: “Our position is clear, children who have been groomed and exploited through county lines should be seen as victims first and foremost.”

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