The Home Office has allocated up to £5 million to support victims of county lines exploitation over the next three years.
Hundreds of victims will be helped to escape drug gangs following the expansion of support services in London, the West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester.
These are the largest exporting areas for county lines activity, which involves drug trafficking operations in which children or vulnerable adults are groomed to run drugs from one city to other parts of the country.
The money will go towards providing a rescue service and specialist one-to-one support for victims.
The one-to-one specialist support service is for young people under 25 and will be delivered by not-for-profit organisation Catch22.
The service will safely make contact with young people who have been referred by safeguarding partners, such as the police and children’s services, and work with them to exit their involvement in county lines activity.
If under-25s are identified outside of their home towns, the rescue service will be deployed to bring them home safely.
The service will also offer mental health support and counselling to the young people and their families, to help deal with the trauma of their experiences.
Home Office minister Jeremy Quin said: “I want victims of exploitation to know that we are on their side – and that there is a way out, a brighter future available.
“Since 2019, the Government’s County Lines Programme has shut down 2,400 lines, made over 8,000 arrests and engaged more than 9,500 individuals through safeguarding interventions.
“These services will be relentless in their focus to carve out safe routes home for young people in danger and tear them away from the grip of these merciless county lines gangs, opening up their futures once more.”
As part of the support package, funding will also be allocated to the confidential and anonymous helpline SafeCall, which helps victims of county lines exploitation.
The service is delivered across England and Wales by Missing People and has supported 480 young victims since it was established in 2017.
Chief executive at Catch22, Naomi Hulston, said: “For children and young people who are victims of county lines activity, the impact on their lives – and the lives of those around them – is devastating.
“We know that grooming techniques are becoming more advanced and that escaping the clutches of these perpetrators can be incredibly difficult.
“That’s why as part of this service we’ll not only be bringing young people home safely, we’ll be supporting them to make sure they can process their experiences and are protected from any future harm.”