Stand your ground

At the time, I didn’t know that my son was being exploited through county lines. I just knew that he’d changed from the beautiful boy I’d known.

My advice to any parent out there is to record everything with dates and times, no matter how small it seems.

It could be subtle changes in your child’s behaviour, or that they have a secret second phone. It doesn’t matter how small it seems, write it down in a book and find a safe space to hide it. For me now there are whole chunks of time I just can’t remember because I was so busy dealing with frequent high stress situations and what I now suspect is PTSD.

Having a timeline and a catalogue of events is so helpful. My child could not be a source of information and intelligence, but you and I can be. Going into meetings with professionals after being raided in the early hours can leave you feeling all over the place, unable to think straight. I was living with absolute chaos and so having a record of facts can really support you and the professionals to make sense of what is going on for your child.

My child, like the majority of affected children, was viewed as a criminal and you need all the information you can to prove that they are a victim of crime.

I’d also suggest that you get therapeutic support for all of your family. At the time I felt that I was protecting my other children by not discussing the issues openly but in turn they felt that they were protecting my son and me by not sharing important information with me. Siblings tend to know far more than you realise. In hindsight I wished I’d talked to my other children and reassured them that they could share anything with me about what was going on.

My family have all been affected and all of us need therapeutic support. I felt so isolated when this was happening. I didn’t talk to my family or friends or people at work. There’s so much judgement about the parents of children affected by county lines.

I’d like to say to other parents please don’t ever feel guilty for doing the things you need to look after yourself. If you want to take the morning off, it’s okay.

If you want to shut down for a bit, it’s okay. If you want to go to work or not go to work, it’s okay. It’s okay to give yourself whatever you need to get through this without guilt or blame. It’s so important to look after yourself and not put yourself or your family at risk. When this was happening I’d scour the streets looking for my son and if I found him, I’d march him home. It’s only now that I realise the kind of danger that put us both in.

I had so many professionals around me telling me different things. Social care was telling me that my son was just being a normal teenager, the police were telling me to get my son out of the area (failing to see that the organised crime networks can just follow a child around) and the mental health team were saying that there was no suitable placements.

I’d say to any parent out there, don’t just accept what services are telling you. Be prepared to stand your ground.

Trust yourself. I know it’s difficult to be considered a problem to services, but I’d say don’t worry about it, your child is worth more.

The outcome for my son was not a good one. I’m writing this in his memory. I hope that the legacy of my family’s great loss is that children and families affected by county lines get the right support and protection to find a way out and thrive.