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an intervention for children at risk of involvement in County Lines

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BraveSpace launched our County Lines intervention 'Behind the Lines'
at the Youth Justice Board Convention on Tuesday 27th & Wednesday 28th November 2018 


A theory of change is a strategic tool to describe an intervention programme’s pathway to addressing its goals. Ours identifies the need for our intervention, ‘Behind the Lines’, which is designed to work with children at risk of engaging in ‘County Lines’ drug dealing. It identifies the characteristics of the groups of children who will most benefit from engagement, and the target goals and outcomes to be achieved for those individuals and, by extension, for wider society.


“‘County Lines’ describes a situation where an individual, or more frequently a group, establishes and operates a telephone number in an area outside their normal locality in order to sell drugs directly to users at street level. This generally involves a group from an urban area expanding their operations by crossing one or more police force boundaries to more rural areas, setting up a secure base and using runners to conduct day to day dealing.”

NCA Intelligence Assessment 12.08.2015

County Lines drug running is cited by youth justice professionals across the country as the most pressing issue to be addressed with the children with whom they work (NCA update to ‘County Lines, Violence, Exploitation and Drug Supply report 2017’, 28.11.2018). Children as young as ten are being coerced into carrying drugs, often within their bodies, mainly from urban areas to the shires or seaside. They are forced to sell drugs, setting up new markets or taking over existing ones from local dealers, and to occupy the homes of vulnerable local people as a base. They are forced through physical or sexual violence, with filmed acts often used to blackmail them, and through threats and attacks on family members. They are often robbed by rival gangs, subject to orchestrated robberies by those exploiting them in the first place or have drugs confiscated by the police, creating a ‘debt’ which they are forced to pay off by working for free. All local authority areas in England and Wales now report a serious County Lines problem, with the range of children targeted widening all the time (Metropolitan Police presentation ‘County Lines’ November 2018).

Profile of our target group:
Our intervention aims to tackle the risk of County Lines engagement among children who may be targeted by drug dealing gangs. Recent analysis (‘Protecting Children from Criminal Exploitation, Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery’, OFSTED, HMICFRS, HMIP, CQC Nov 2018) shows that all socio-economic groups are at risk, with recent reports of public school children being involved; both boys and girls. Children who are looked after by local authorities are often at risk as well as children living with families where the parental oversight is weak. The profile of children arrested is increasingly younger, though older teens may not be reported as missing so quickly. Children out of school and with mental health or learning needs are at increased risk.






  • Practitioners delivering will be social workers, teachers, youth workers or YOT practitioners. All have expertise in working with vulnerable children

  • Accredited training programme and detailed facilitators’ manual with all instructions and materials

Delivery Agency

  • Systems for ensuring programme fidelity: supervision of staff delivering; records of sessions; observations

  • Suitable community location for delivery of programme

Programme Preparation
Delivery Agency

  • Identification of target group through referrals from professionals and self-referrals

  • Assessment for suitability by delivery officers

  • Face-to-face preparation for children engaging so they understand the commitment and challenging nature of the work

Programme Activities

  • Eight session programme which can be delivered one to one or in groups

  • Pre- and post- programme evaluation tools to assess impact

  • Practical activities, videos, games and discussions

  • Guidance on post-programme signposting for those looking for a route out

Outputs and Engagement

  • Uptake by specified number of children meeting the profile for benefit from the programme

  • 100% attendance and engagement by children throughout sessions and follow up

  • Children participating express confidence in the delivery officers

  • Children participating demonstrate reflection on decisions and actions

Final Outcomes

  • Reduced likelihood of engaging in drug running

  • Reduced engagement in risky behaviours

-------------------------------Accountability Line----------------------------------


Final Outcomes

  • Reduced engagement in gang activity

  • Reduced re-offending, especially offences relating to drug supply



There is a pressing need to address County Lines drug dealing among young people in England and Wales: children are being stabbed or killed, witnessing violence and overdoses, and experiencing intense trauma

  • Children are exploited into this activity by being sold a picture of easy, big earnings

  • Through eight intervention sessions we support children to understand the reality of this lifestyle and make better choices

  • The programme is more likely to succeed when delivered to an Early Intervention cohort rather than those already entrenched in gang activity

  1. Programme Structure and Components:
    Behind the Lines is an intervention programme designed for use with children between the ages of ten and seventeen who are at risk of engaging in County Lines drug running. The programme comprises eight sessions which will take around 45 minutes each and can be delivered either one to one or in small groups; the programme content contains activities tailored to either format of delivery. The programme format is modelled on a recruitment process, with activities which mirror its stages: this reveals to its young participants, who are likely to have been ‘sold’ an idealised picture of what drug running entails, what the actual reality is.
    The programme is delivered through use of materials all contained within the programme manual. Components include a pre- and post- programme analysis tool to assess the participants’ attitudes and values, and thereby evaluate progress made through engagement. There are activities, videos, games and exercises which develop the theme of recruitment and enable participants to see the reality and risks of the lifestyle. The closing session includes signposting on so that the progress in thinking is translated into behaviour, and that the change is sustainable.


  2. Theoretical basis
    Behind the Lines is informed by theory to maximise its effectiveness for a complex, vulnerable and challenging cohort of children.


“People with childhood histories of trauma, abuse and neglect make up almost our entire criminal justice population”

Psychiatric Disorders in Youth Juvenile Detention, Archives of General Psychiatry 2002

Our programme is based on the knowledge that participants will have experienced a range of adverse childhood experiences including, but not limited to, witnessing or experiencing violence, sexual abuse, bereavement and negative or absent parenting. Our approach supports children who have been through trauma to appreciate the warped thinking and difficulties caused by this past damage in making informed, consequential and empathetic life choices.
“Desistance is the process of abstaining from crime amongst those who previously had engaged in a sustained pattern of offending”

Maruna, Making Good, 2002

The focus of Behind the Lines is to promote desistance from offending, specifically the supply of illegal substances, among its participants. This means desistance both at primary level – cessation of criminal activity in the immediate term; and secondary level – a longer term transition into a positive, pro-social identity and lifestyle. The activities within the programme promote maturation and rational decision making, considering the full and realistic consequences of choices. This then builds a positive self-identity for the child as someone who does not engage in criminal activity. Pro-social bonds are developed through supporting links into education and paid employment in a legitimate manner, using often extensive transferrable skills and knowledge gleaned from criminality. Exercises which encourage participants to rationalise, examine the ramifications of their choices and alternatives, enable cognitive transformation. This will sustain them on their journey of self-understanding into a crime free life.

  1. Manual and staff training
    Organisations choosing to deliver Behind the Lines will receive a programme manual for its implementation. This can be easily used by experienced practitioners to deliver the programme content, containing as it does, all of the materials needed, with guidance notes for delivery officers.
    BraveSpace also delivers training for services delivering Behind the Lines. This is recommended especially for officers who may have less experience or confidence in having open and robust discussions with children about their associations or criminal activity. The training can be delivered to groups of up to twelve professionals, who will then be able to deliver the intervention.


  2. Monitoring outcomes, evaluation; evidence of impact
    The outcomes of Behind the Lines are monitored in several ways. Intelligence is sought from criminal justice sources and other referring agencies about involvement in gangs and drug dealing following programme completion. Hard information is monitored with regard to criminal justice outcomes. Integral to the programme is also analysis of ‘soft outcomes’ – the changing in thinking, attitudes and values over the course of programme engagement.
    In the pilot stage, Behind the Lines was delivered to children in two inner London local authorities. There were three group sessions delivered using the elements of the material designed for group implementation, with six participants in each of the groups. All of these children were referred from the Early Intervention arena, with one group delivered via youth services and two in schools. In the case of the two school-based groups, no young people have since entered the criminal justice system. In the youth service group, one participant did receive a conviction subsequently, but not for a drugs related offence. The pre- and post- programme assessment process showed advances in pro-social attitudes for all participants, for many to a substantial level.
    Behind the Lines was also piloted as a one to one intervention, using the elements of the material designed for this. This pilot took place in a Youth Offending Service, with participants referred who were known by professionals to be entrenched in County Lines activity. Three of the children referred completed the programme, all of whom subsequently reoffended. The analysis of their attitudes and values feedback showed minimal change. The hypothesis of our research team is that the lack of effect is not a product of the means of delivery (one to one) but of the cohort chosen. The children engaging at this point were too heavily involved in this activity for the educational and cognitive change approaches of Behind the Lines to be effective. We posit that our programme is highly effective with the ‘at risk’ cohort of children who are at the margins of gang activity and likely to be exploited; a different intervention is needed for those who are established in dealing drugs. The next stage of our pilot involves engaging an early intervention cohort in one to one delivery.


  3. Further Information
    To find out more about Behind the Lines, please visit our website at or contact our Managing Director, David Mclean.


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