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Young people and “county lines”: a contextual and social account

Lauren Elizabeth Wroe (The International Centre: Researching Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking, University of Bedfordshire, Luton, UK)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 2 January 2021

Issue publication date: 17 February 2021




This paper aims to present an analysis of a “county lines” safeguarding partnership in a large city region of England. A critical analysis of current literature and practice responses to “county lines” is followed by the presentation of an analytical framework that draws on three contextual and social theories of (child) harm. This framework is applied to the partnership work to ask: are the interconnected conditions of criminal exploitation of children via “county lines” understood?; do interventions target the contexts of harm?; and is social and institutional harm acknowledged and addressed?


The analytical framework is applied to a data set collected by the author throughout a two-year study of the “county lines” partnership. Qualitative data collected by the author and quantitative data published by the partnership are coded and thematically analysed in NVivo against the analytic framework.


Critical tensions are surfaced in the praxis of multi-agency, child welfare responses to “county lines” affected young people. Generalising these findings to the child welfare sector at large, it is proposed that the contextual dynamics of child harm via “county lines” must be understood in a broader sense, including how multi-agency child welfare practices contribute to the harm experienced by young people.


There are limited peer-reviewed analyses of child welfare responses to “county lines”. This paper contributes to that limited scholarship, extending the analysis by adopting a critical analytic framework to a regional county lines partnership at the juncture of future national, child welfare responses to “county lines”.



Author would like to thank the two reviewers for their insightful comments and reflections. With special thanks to Dr Patrick Williams, and to the Contextual Safeguarding team, whose insights have greatly supported the ideas in this paper; and to Ffion Evans and Dr Jo Dillon for providing endless motivation and encouragement.


Wroe, L.E. (2021), "Young people and “county lines”: a contextual and social account", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 39-55.



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