County Lines and Exploitation
To invite the St Giles Trust to discuss the support they offer young people who have been involved with county lines or are at risk of becoming exploited
The Chair welcomed Danielle, former senior case worker on the serious organized crime and CSU Finance project and Rebecca, Team Leader for Community Projects in Wales to the meeting to talk about the services provided by St Giles Trust to young people who may have been radicalised or become involved in county lines activity. The chair reminded the committee that the People Scrutiny Committee will be hosting a scrutiny workshop for Members on County Lines in July (date to be confirmed) and that all Members would be invited to the session.
Danielle and Rebecca explained that St Giles Trust is a national charity that has been operating for 60 years and 10 years in Wales, using expertise and real life/lived experience to empower people who may have been held back by poverty, been exploited or abused or those dealing with addictions or mental health problems or have been caught up in the criminal justice system. They provided a detailed explanation of the services provided, slides being available on the website together with the agenda. Following detailed discussion, Members asked the following questions.
How are the projects that are delivered in the Gwent area that you have explained in detail funded?
The Wedge service is funded by the police crime commissioner, who funds nearly all of the projects apart from the girls empowerment which I believe is funded by Newport Capsule. We received Top-Up funding via our head office in the South Wales area to deliver it across Gwent and we have funding for children in need. Some of the contracts were Ministry of Justice contracts, but we do go for small pots of money from businesses and other avenues.
- I’m interested to know about the charity aspect, whether fundraising is on a local basis or a London basis?
We have team members in Wales and our own Development Manager in Wales, but the main team is in London. We try to resource anything locally and hold our own fundraising events.
- My background has been in victim offender mediation, family mediation and community mediation, the ethos of which is to try and get a greater understanding of how the victim feels by the action they're experiencing. Do you think we do enough of that, whether it's within the curriculum or via other means, because if we could get people to understand that, maybe there would be greater respect?
There's always more that can be done on that level, but St Giles Trust doesn’t just deliver sessions to young people, but also to parents, teachers and the police, so we give the information to everybody who needs it, but yes, there is always more that can be done.
- It would be good to hear of some examples, but I understand because of confidentiality, that may not be possible. I’m interested in the root causes, whether these are external factors such as the cost of living, or whether it’s people’s ability to cope with things or implications from their home life, so whether there are links to counselling and support from Mind, Cams etc. I’m also wondering how big the problem is and whether there's a massive need out there that you're not able to help, when you'd really like to and haven’t got endless resources.
Due to confidentiality, we can’t discuss examples, but what I will say is that you know that when the problem changes, the trend changes, for example, there could be a big problem in one area and then it will calm down and it’s a case of moving the problem. I think the police help with the disruption and social services and schools have eyes on the community, so I think the trend and the problem moves and changes constantly. In terms of the root of the problem, the cost of living is not helping, because poverty is increasing in families and post covid, there are a lot of children struggling in returning to school. Also other issues could be factors, such as employment issues, where parents may be out of work or struggling financially. In terms of counselling and referral to other organisations, some people are referred to Mind and Cams via GP’s and we use the well-being officers within schools and colleges to highlight services.
- You mentioned that caseworkers have up to 15 cases each? Is that manageable?
Sometimes we have really complex cases others, whereas others are a bit of a light touch, just giving awareness and information, doing some work with the families and ensuring that they're linking in with the teachers or getting some additional help from other organizations. In terms of the caseworkers, they are allocated referrals for the whole of Gwent, but what we tend to do when we receive a referral is to look at everyone’s caseloads to see who has capacity, and to ensure everyone has a mix of complex ones and light touch ones. We have a waiting list, but the quality of the service is important, and we have delivered to quite a few schools in the Gwent area but if you could let more schools know that we are available, that would be helpful.
- I'm very interested to note that you um you encourage self-referral by young people? I’ve not heard about your service before so how are you getting your message across to those young people so that they can self-refer?
We use the opportunity in schools, also attend youth clubs and any other event and there have been football events in the summer, music events, so we try and get to those and network as much as we can. We do have some self-referrals, but they less common. Usually the children approach the caseworker after the school session, so in terms of how we reach out to them, whilst we are on You Tube, I think they're just using web search.
Whilst we know poverty can be a factor, county lines can easily come in good demographic areas and good schools and it’s more a question of the vulnerability and availability of the young people, so it does need more awareness. We highlight in our presentations that it's not just and issue for the single parent household or the one facing poverty, or the big housing estates. We have worked with parents who are professionals, teachers, nurses or GP’s. That’s where we find the self-referrals tend to come in, so whereas kids used to be targeted if they had vulnerabilities like being in a family in receipt of benefits and wanting to belong to something, now perpetrators of this crime know that those kids are more noticeable now and are targeting kids whose parents are professionals, those who don’t have the involvement of a social worker, because it is easier for them to move them around and because there are not on anyone’s radar. So we must look for shifts and different trends, but the criminals are always looking for ways around it, to reduce the eyes on their operation, so the situation is changing constantly.
- What do you think the root causes of those people getting involved? Is it money, social media glamorization of the criminal lifestyle?
I think people want to belong. Some children could have professional parents who are out working all the time and don't have anyone at home monitoring them and they want to belong to something, so they're easily targeted and they start liking pictures on social media and then these people know what they like and entice them in by messages asking if they want to make some money or do want to be involved, so I think they are targeted through social media, so the demographics are always changing.
I’m wondering if you have a view on whether as a rural county that is in close proximity to major cities, whether you have noticed more illegal economic activity in the south of the county since the bridge tolls were axed and whether you have seen greater sophistication in the way that these gangs operate particularly with younger children?
I think this would be more of a question for the Police, because they would have that type of information. The county lines activity doesn't necessarily have to come from England, as there are well established networks in Wales, with networks in bigger cities targeting these smaller towns where they know that they can build a network, because there's less activity, so it’s changed and now it's just any opportunity to get into small areas. We have caseworkers in Gwent, Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol, Somerset and Gloucester, so we see young people who have been exploited and moved around different counties. If we find they're being relocated by Social Services into a different residential home or care home, we're able to have that seamless handover of information between our teams. We regularly discuss whether trends are changing.
- What would be a snapshot of your typical week?
Caseworkers would book their appointments ahead, which could be in a school setting or a community setting. Young people could be NEET (not in education or employment) so we may need to go into the family home and help them develop a CV, we may be identifying positive networks for them, but we may also be receiving phone calls from parents to say the young person has gone missing or been arrested and we’ll do what we can as a multi-agency member with the other services to try and relocate or ensure that child is safe.
- How do you win trust, for example, how do you liaise with people and communicate with families, who you know may not necessarily want to liaise with Social Services because they don’t trust them or the Police. How do you overcome that and build up that trust?
There’s a large amount of our caseworkers that have lived experience, so they can relate to the issues and the needs of the child in the family. I have my own lived experience, having grown up in a household where there was domestic violence and involvement of Social Services and I ended up getting into the wrong crowd when I was a teenager, so I have experience of addiction, of prison and of probation services, so I've experienced quite a lot of the stuff that the young people have experienced themselves. I was expelled from school, I couldn't get a job because of my criminal record, so all these things I have personal experience about and when I'm talking with parents, I bridge the gap between the social services. I speak to them because they look up to people on the street. These young people turn away from statutory services, so what I do is I come in with my lived experience and talk to these people exactly how they would sit and talk to their friends so I have a conversation with them and they will listen to what I've said because I can speak to them with the experiences that they've gone through and we can bridge that gap between the Professional Services and between these families and young people. Because of the knowledge we have, the experiences we have, people listen to what we have to say because they don't see us as just reading it from a book or giving them advice that you haven't experienced. Our lived experience helps us to educate them and they do listen to us.
You also give them validation and care which perhaps they haven’t had an awful lot of in their upbringing and you're showing them that empowerment is the key. A lot of them lack confidence and lack self-esteem and it's just seeing somebody like myself, who has been through the experiences they've been through, such as prison, and then managed to turn it around, you can become positive role models, showing them that there's a life after this and you can have nice trainers that you bought yourself without being involved in crime, you can have a good job and you can still be a part of your community, you don't have to be a sheep and follow the people who are involved in crime and you can make your own way in life. This is the huge part of the job we do.
Thank you so much for coming along and it it’s really lit the committee up, in terms of our interest and concern in this issue I can speak confidently for all the committee in our desire to invite you back to us in the next month or two to do a workshop on county lines, which we really looking forward to. So thank you for coming along and explaining everything to us. The work you do is extremely impressive and this is this is the kind of stuff that reminds me why we do what we do and try to cooperate with you and understand what you do in helping young people.