The shocking revelation that vulnerable teenagers are being forced to coerce new recruits to deal drugs is emerging in towns in the county.
Safeguarding team 'Together Reducing and Ending Exploitation within Shropshire', or Trees, says the exploitation of children outside the family home includes “debts bondage”, with threats of physical violence being used as a way to control young people who may believe they are receiving free drugs or alcohol.
Growing concern in north Shropshire has led to a special meeting set up for later in the month for families in the community.
Clare Jervis, who manages the Trees team, said cannabis was an issue for many young people involved in criminal exploitation.
Concerns also continue to be raised around increased violence, anti-social behaviour and young people carrying knives.
“We have noted an increase of ‘peer-on-peer’ coercion where we believe that vulnerable young people are being forced to coerce new recruits, as well as issues of young people moving into the territory of coercing other young people to deal drugs,” she said.
Campaign to make public aware of signs of exploitation
County Lines gangs have preyed on vulnerable people in Shropshire for many years - but a worrying trend is growing of young people coercing others into crime.
A campaign is underway to raise community awareness of signs of the exploitation of young people and ways that concerns can be reported.
A special drop in meeting will be held in Ellesmere’s Secondary School, Lakelands Academy, on November 23, when a number of partner agencies will be on hand to offer support and guidance.
Leaflets will also be handed out within the town where, experts say, there are emerging concerns about young people.
Among those at the event will be the Bright Stars Boxing Club, which works to divert children away from criminal exploitation into positive activities.
Clare Jervis, the exploitation lead for Shropshire who also managing the Trees team said new trends are not necessarily connected with the well known County Lines exploitation.
“It is important to recognise that the exploitation of children outside the family absolutely does exist within Shropshire,” she said.
“Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial harm. We want our message to be very clear; the only way we can tackle exploitation is to raise awareness amongst our communities including assisting others to know the signs/indicators of criminal and sexual exploitation so that children can be protected from harm.
"Early identification education and support is crucial to prevent risks from increasing."
She said that it was vital to ensure that as a community the issues around exploitation are tackled together and to help parents and carers to understand the support that is available for themselves and their children.
“The ways in which children are exploited can amount to criminal behaviour by those who are exploiting them and or as a presenting behaviour of a child who is being exploited," she said.
“There may also be behaviour that you witness in communities that cause you to be concerned that unknown children are being exploited - such as activity around addresses or locations.
“If you have information about anti-social or criminal activity or behaviour - even where you do not know who is at risk or of concern - which indicates that child exploitation may be occurring and you do not have information about specific children, please ensure you pass this information to West Mercia Police as soon as possible to enable them to prevent and detect crime.
“Where you think there is an immediate risk to a person or you witness a crime taking place, phone 999 - or dial 55 if you are unable to talk."
She added: “Where you have child-specific information which suggests that a child is at risk of or experiencing harm as a result of exploitation, you must follow the Child Exploitation Pathway and pass information related to criminal activity or behaviour posing a risk to West Mercia Police.
“Children, their families and/or other members of the community may be worried about sharing information about crime with the police, but you can encourage them to do so anonymously by signposting them to Crimestoppers, or the Fearless website for young people - fearless.org”
The trend has been revealed amid continuing concern about the problems Shropshire faces with County Lines gangs that move into rural towns to prey on the vulnerable.
Earlier this year Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wall, from West Mercia Police’s crime and vulnerability department, revealed the extent of action taken over the past year by the force to stamp out the County Lines gangs.
In a 12-month crackdown, the force seized £242,000 of drugs, £90,000 in cash, 110 weapons, safeguarded 78 people, and made 172 arrests, across Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin. The figures included £55,000 of heroin taken off the streets, along with £53,000 of crack cocaine, £25,000 of cocaine, and £109,000 of cannabis.