Locking the doors at night. Bolting the windows. Householders going to bed ready to be up and out in the street at a moment's notice. These were the stories I heard from concerned parents of Dover. Yet this was not about keeping people out. It was about keeping their children inside – and safe.
Sitting round the table with the parents of Dover's Families United support group I heard how they are the front line in the war against drugs. Every parent wants to give their children a stable, loving home. Nothing is more important than ensuring our children our safe – whether at school, online or out and about with their friends. Yet these parents' children had been targeted by "county lines" drugs gangs and they needed help.
This is a rising problem. Drug deaths have doubled in Kent in the last three years – to the highest level in the UK. My first priority has been to seek tougher action against the drug dealers who exploit young people. Starting with more prosecutions and tougher sentences. An important milestone in this campaign has been securing Robert's Law. This means there is now stronger prosecution guidance and tougher sentences for the dangerous new drug fentanyl – in memory of Deal's Robert Fraser who was killed by the deadly opioid.
Yet we also need to take the battle to the drugs gangs. There are currently 48 county lines gang operations in Kent. All of these gangs exploit vulnerable children. I met with East Kent's police chiefs to seek further action. I set out my concerns over reports dealers were targeting children at our schools. As a result, the police have been taking firm action – with the arrest, charge, and removal of a number of accused county lines drug dealers from Dover.
We also need to support the parents. Families United told me they felt they were fighting a lonely battle. They needed back up. They had support from the St Giles Trust. This charity has been doing great work, yet only had funding until September for a pilot scheme in Dover. This project trains teenagers who had already overcome disadvantages to help other troubled youngsters. Yet their funding was uncertain, so I asked Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott to help – and he has acted to ensure they now have funding until April next year. I am working to get the Home Office to provide support too.
Families United want to found a new youth hub in Dover town centre. The group are trying to find a suitable space where young people can go after school. This is incredibly important. If you know of such a space, or can help, do get in touch with me or Families United urgently.
Beating drugs and addiction is hard. We can only help the county lines victims by coming together – families, community, government and police – to protect our children and take the battle to the London drugs gangs. That's why all of us need to do our bit to help rid our community of drugs.
Families United has asked anyone with suitable space in the Dover town centre area to contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org or my office on email@example.com
Please do watch the ITV video of these brave Dover parents here: http://www.itv.com/news/2018-09-28/i-wouldnt-wish-this-on-my-worst-enemy-parents-lift-the-lid-on-the-damage-county-lines-does-to-families/
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