Essex has seen one of the highest increases in the number of children in need of care due to gangs.

Only Kent has seen a larger real increase in the number of children whose safety and wellbeing is threatened by gang culture among county councils – even though its percentage increase between 2017 and 2018 is lower.

The numbers follow concerns among many in social services and youth offending teams that drug gangs are posing a significant risk to young people in Essex.

In response, some £500,000 of extra funding to tackle so-called county lines gangs has been allocated.

Conservative council leader Cllr David Finch says county lines drugs gangs are “a real and present danger to communities up and down our county”.

County lines sees urban gangs from larger cities use mobile phones in a different area to sell crack cocaine and heroin directly at street level.

“Our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst has identified this as a priority,” said Cllr Finch.

“With our responsibility for the wider wellbeing of all our communities, we are making £500,000 available for partnership working to protect young people at risk from those who might exploit them.”

With an increase in the number of children in need due to gangs of 83 per cent, the other main areas outside Kent which have seen larger increases were the metropolitan centres of Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and London.

Last year 1,000 people were arrested in connection with county lines, with Essex Police admitting it not making a discernible difference.

Of the 2,000 lines operating nationally, it is so named due to a single telephone used to order drugs – 134 are in Essex.

County line networks are having a massive impact on rural counties.

Vulnerable children and adults are being recruited in large cities to transport cash and drugs all over the country.

This keeps the true criminals behind it detached from the act and less likely to be detected or caught.

These gangs often set up a base in a rural area for a short time, taking over the home of a vulnerable person, also known as ‘cuckooing’.

They then use adults and children to act as drug runners.

Tanya Gillett, head of the Youth Offending Service in Essex, which at any one times works with about 450 young people, of which 60 per cent are connected to county lines, told Essex county councillors in February that many young people are lost in the system.

She added that there is a pressing need to share intelligence on use of supported independent accommodation (SIA’s), which she said is currently an area of concern.

At least 16 plus young people in Essex known to the YOS are placed in these units, but the actual number may be much higher.