Evaluation of County Lines in Cymru (CLiC)

Date: September 2023

Evaluated by: JH Consulting


County Lines in Cymru (CLiC) is a service funded through Children in Need (CiN).  Starting in 2017, CLiC aims to support children and young people who have become involved in county lines activity in Cardiff, Swansea and the surrounding area.  The three key outcomes are:

  • Reducing the involvement of children and young people in county lines operations as gang protagonists, victims and perpetrators
  • Improving family relationships for children and young people involved in county lines operations
  • Increasing the availability of support for children and young people involved in county lines operations

The interim evaluation carried out in 2019 revealed that these objectives were being achieved, enabling children to move into more positive lifestyles, including reconnecting with their families.  CLiC was also developing ground breaking partnership work with the police, social care, schools and other key agencies.

This report builds on the interim evaluation, identifying the further progress that St Giles has made in this essential and sometimes life saving area of work, reviewing the impact of six years of delivery and partnership development.  Rather than repeating previous findings, reference is made to the interim report.  To gain additional detail of the project’s work it is recommended that both are read.

Summary of findings

CLiC delivers ground breaking, essential and dedicated support

  • Since 2017, CLiC has delivered ground breaking work delivering intensive one-to-one specialist support to 140 of the most exploited and vulnerable children and their families in South Wales, as well as light touch support for over 388 additional children. In line with its aims, CLiC has improved children’s self-esteem, empowering them to make positive decisions and seek appropriate help.  The project makes a significant and valued contribution to helping tackle the pernicious and serious problem of child exploitation in county lines drug running.
  • Of the 140 children receiving in-depth specialist support, 103 (74%) have exited county lines exploitation and activity and a further 22 of the working age young people have moved into jobs. Given the complexity and degree of exploitation and other issues facing these young people, these are very impressive outcomes and demonstrate the effectiveness of the project.
  • Caseworkers’ lived experience, ability to connect with young people, tenacity and dedication is central to the success of the project. In addition, their in depth knowledge and experience of police and court procedures, exploitation and the NRM has been of immense benefit, enabling young people to be properly protected by the law and, in some cases, to avoid inappropriate and damaging custodial sentences.
  • There is clear evidence that CLiC support can help children and young people make lasting changes in their lives, moving away from exploitation and criminality and establishing stable, positive lifestyles. These journeys are often long and involve many ups and downs, as is often the case for anyone trying to escape trauma, coercion and violence.
  • Changes in data collection and recording methods and a lack of staff capacity over the course of the project, combined with additional pressures and data issues during the pandemic mean that project data is incomplete in some areas and the full impact of the project is likely to be far greater than can be formally evidenced.

Invaluable work with partners to help tackle child criminal exploitation

  • The understanding of criminal exploitation of children and young people by the police, social care, schools and other statutory sector services has grown. However, it remains patchy, particularly in relation to children and young people being recognised as both victim and perpetrator, as reflected in the still unsatisfactory application (or not) of the national referral mechanism (NRM) and modern slavery act (MSA).
  • CLiC has not only delivered sometimes life saving services for children and young people, but also supported the development of understanding in other agencies (police, social care, schools) and contributed to the further development of specialist exploitation services across St Giles and more widely. This is helping highly vulnerable children and young people in South Wales and beyond.

A need to increase the response for girls and young women

  • Between 2017 and 2023, only 5 referrals of girls were made to CLiC. Nationally, around 13% of those identified as involved in county lines exploitation are female (National Co-ordination Centre for County Lines, 2021).  This suggests that the police (and other statutory services) are not recognising the way in which girls and young women present, including understanding that sexual exploitation is often a feature of county lines involvement.
  • CLiC has clearly responded very well to the needs of the girls who have been referred, indicating that the specialist service required for them is being delivered. However, improvements in the understanding and knowledge of referral partners is needed to ensure that girls and young women are being recognised and referred for help.

Effective responses to the pandemic and cost of living crisis

  • The Covid 19 pandemic saw an increase in criminal exploitation with exploiters taking advantage of reduced safeguarding from school closures and little, if any, contact from social care, as well as significant increased hardship and tension in families. CLiC, in contrast to many other services, continued to deliver as normal, providing an essential service.
  • Post pandemic, the cost of living crisis has placed significant additional pressure on many families, making children even more vulnerable to the false promises of making money quickly to support loved ones and/or to have the clothes and possessions many teenagers understandably want.

An urgent need for continued and increased funding

  • The 2019 evaluation highlighted the increasingly local nature of the criminal exploitation of children and young people through the developing ‘business model’ of county lines activity. This pattern has continued, accompanied by significant local violence, including homicides, as well as some children and local people being trafficked long distances from home.
  • A 2023 drugs intelligence profile produced by South Wales Police highlights the continuing and increasing threat posed by drug use and linked criminality, including the exploitation of vulnerable children and young people. The police and other statutory services emphasise the importance of a specialist service such as CLiC in helping to tackle these issues.
  • Since 2017, funding levels have restricted the capacity of CLiC to one front line caseworker. Most importantly, this is not sufficient to meet demand and places considerable pressure on a single caseworker dealing with high levels of individual need and vulnerability.  In addition, it does not allow enough time for the data recording and analysis essential to evidence the full impact of the project.

Download and read the full evaluation of CLiC

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