The Home Office has allocated up to £5 million over the next three years to support victims of exploitation on the provincial lines.
Hundreds of victims will be helped to escape drug gangs after the expansion of support services in London, the West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester.
These are the largest export areas for provincial line activities involving drug trafficking operations, preparing children or vulnerable adults to transport drugs from one city to other parts of the country.
The money will go towards providing a rescue service and specialized one-to-one support for victims.
I want victims of exploitation to know that we are on their side – and that there is a way out, a better future available
The one-on-one specialized support is for young people under the age of 25 and is provided by the non-profit organization Catch22.
The agency will securely contact and work with young people referred by protection partners, such as the police and child services, to end their involvement in provincial border activities.
If young people under the age of 25 are identified outside their residence, the rescue service is deployed to bring them home safely.
The service will also provide mental health support and counseling to the youth and their families to help them cope with the trauma of their experiences.
Home Secretary Jeremy Quin said: “I want victims of exploitation to know that we are on their side – and that there is a way out, a better future is available.
“Since 2019, the government’s County Lines program has shut down 2,400 lines, made more than 8,000 arrests and involved more than 9,500 people through security interventions.
“These services will be relentless in their focus on plotting safe routes home for young people in danger and freeing them from the grip of these ruthless gangs of the provincial borders, reopening their futures.”
We know that grooming techniques are becoming more sophisticated and that escaping from the clutches of these perpetrators can be incredibly difficult
As part of the support package, funds will also be allocated to the confidential and anonymous SafeCall helpline, which assists victims of provincial line exploitation.
The service is provided throughout England and Wales by Missing People and has supported 480 young victims since its inception in 2017.
Chief executive at Catch22, Naomi Hulston, said: “For children and young people who are victims of activities in the county, the impact on their lives – and the lives of those around them – is devastating.
“We know that grooming techniques are becoming more sophisticated and that it can be incredibly difficult to escape the clutches of these perpetrators.
“That’s why as part of this service we will not only bring young people home safely, we will also support them to ensure they can process their experiences and be protected from any future harm.”