County lines is used to describe the illicit drug supply model whereby drugs are transported from one area of the country to another, often by children believed to have been physically and psychologically coerced to do so. County lines is a serious threat to public health, with significant negative impacts on the physical and psychological health and wellbeing of children and families.
We conducted in-depth interviews with parents of children involved in county lines to understand their experiences and the impact of grooming and recruitment. Interviews were conducted between December 2019 and January 2021. Thematic analysis identified four primary themes: (i) out of nowhere behaviour change, (ii) escalation and entrenchment, (iii) impact of intervention failures and (iv) destructive lifestyle choices.
Parents from across England all reported similar experiences, and so these data offer novel insight into potential grooming and recruitment indicators. All were frustrated by the prevailing vulnerable narrative, which they argued hindered understanding. A lack of consultation, and reports of numerous intervention failures was common.
The importance of giving parents a voice and involving them as a potential first line of defence, and how the current vulnerability narrative appears to be closing impactful education opportunities are discussed.