Drug gangs from London and Liverpool are exploiting up to 150 children in Dover, according to caseworkers in the town. The gangs prey on schoolchildren, pressuring them to sell Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine and threatening them if they try to leave, says the St Giles Trust.
It has been training people with previous experience in gangs to become specialist caseworkers, who are then assigned to troubled youngsters involved in county lines, where gangs from urban areas targeting people from regional towns to run their operations. St Giles Trust believes up to 15 lines go into Dover and that each one will exploit around 10 young people on average.
I have been fighting for more funding for their project. I have been speaking with parents for months now and am hugely concerned by the trend. Our young people are being pressured into a dark world of drugs and crime with promises of cash that quickly turn into threats of violence. We have got to take tough action on this. Kent Police are cracking down, but we also need people to support the kids and show them a different path. That's why I have fought to secure funding for St Giles. I have been clear the project shouldn't be axed or even continued – it should be expanded.
The pilot project run by St Giles Trust was due to end in September – but I asked Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott to extend it and he has agreed to provide funding until April. According to a new report commissioned by the Home Office, the number of children reported missing due to suspected gang activity dropped by 40% in Dover and 65% in Margate in the months after the project launched in September 2017. Kent Police calculated more than a quarter of a million pounds had been saved in resources, compared to £80,000 spent on the caseworkers.
Chief Executive of St Giles Trust Rob Owen OBE said: "We are very proud of the impact we had during the pilot project and are pleased we are able to continue it until March 2019 thanks to the continued funding from Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott.
"It clearly demonstrates what can be achieved when radically different approaches are adopted towards tackling complex, difficult issues such as county line exploitation of vulnerable children and adolescents.
"Our approach, of using professionally trained individuals who have first-hand experience of the issues the young people we help are experiencing, means that they have been able to really get inside the heads of very scared youngsters and guide them back on track."
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