Hollyoaks will in 2020 explore the issue of child criminal exploitation through county lines with school-age children and teen characters – working closely with charity The Children’s Society.
The decision for Hollyoaks to tackle this subject comes off the back of the National Crime Agency revealing county lines exploitation is present across all police areas in England and Wales. It estimates that the number of deal lines has more than doubled to around 2,000 in the last year.
Hollyoaks’ ambition is to get beyond the headlines, beyond the crime statistics and police reports, and to look at the impact on real families and real children.
‘County lines’ is a term used when drug gangs from big cities expand their operations to smaller towns, exploiting children and vulnerable people.
Over the course of a year Hollyoaks characters, Juliet (Niamh Blackshaw), Charlie (Charlie Behan), Sid (Billy Price) and Ella (Erin Palmer) will be groomed to carry out criminal activity.
Hollyoaks matriarchs Nancy (Jessica Fox), Leela (Kirsty Leigh Porter), Marnie (Lysette Anthony) and Mandy (Sarah Jayne Dunn) will fight to protect their children as they become embroiled in this dangerous world.
The long-running story will commence in an ambitious New Year hour long ‘flash-forward’ episode (to be aired on Friday 27th December E4, Monday 30th December C4).
Episode scenes will offer glimpses of New Year’s Eve 2020, depicting how much life has changed in a year for the young teens of Hollyoaks village and their families. As the clock chimes towards midnight, flashes to scenes 12 months on, will include a knife being dropped into an evidence bag.
Hollyoaks Executive Producer Bryan Kirkwood confirmed that raising awareness of the dangers of carrying knives would be amongst key messages to come from the show over the next year.
He said: “Hollyoaks has a good model for telling real-life stories that are happening to our audience right now.
“We have a strong and award-winning formula of how to talk to young people without them feeling lectured.
“A recent statistic found that 40 per cent of people who watch Hollyoaks watch it in a traditional way, at home with family or friends. So, we are in a very strong position to start vital conversations in the living room.
“County lines child exploitation is terrifying and every month the writers come in telling stories of their children’s schools on lock-down, or weapons being confiscated. It’s in the news and in our court systems.
“We want young people and parents to know the signs and what to do if you think it’s happening to your child or someone they know.”
The Children’s Society are a national charity that works with some of the country's most vulnerable children and young people, including those at risk of or affected by child criminal exploitation. Hollyoaks’ writing and research teams have consulted The Children’s Society throughout the creative process and will continue to consult the charity’s experts throughout the scripting and production process.
While advising on relevant storylines they have also attended sessions with cast members and their families to ensure the storyline is explained sensitively and, in a way that younger cast members feel comfortable with.
The Children’s Society recent report, Counting Lives, found arrests of 10-17-year-olds for possession with intent to supply Class A drugs increased by half (49% from 338 in 2015/16 to 505 in 2017/18) across 17 police forces outside London over three years.
Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Day in day out we see the devastating impact that criminal exploitation and grooming of children through county lines operations has upon young lives.
“These criminals groom children into trafficking their drugs for them with promises of money, friendship and status. Once they've been drawn in, these children are controlled using threats, violence and sexual abuse, leaving them traumatised and living in fear.
“This can happen to any child in any community and we applaud the bold move by Hollyoaks to shine a light upon this serious issue by bringing it to a fictional suburb of what is seen as a relatively affluent city.
“We welcome the opportunity to offer advice to the writers and cast to help ensure the story is portrayed in a way which shows the terrifying reality of exploitation.”
“It’s really important to raise awareness of these very real dangers among children, parents and the wider public, and support everyone in spotting the signs of child criminal exploitation.”
Hollyoaks has a strong award-winning reputation for covering issue storylines during a pre-watershed, tea-time slot. Most recently exploring the issue of far-right extremism, working closely with The Home Office and Prevent and charity Small Steps. Other storylines have included self-harm, sexual abuse and sexual consent. All stories are fully complied and edited for broadcast suitability in the 18:30 time slot and programme support will be attached to the relevant episodes.
Hollyoaks airs weeknights at 6.30pm on Channel 4, with first look screenings at 7pm on E4.
For more information and advice about county lines visit: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-is-county-lines
To arrange interviews with someone from The Children’s Society, or for more information or PR resources covering county lines exploitation, please contact the media team on 020 7814 4422 or email@example.com. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.
Notes to editor
The Children’s Society is a national charity that helps the most vulnerable children and young people in Britain today. We run services and campaigns to make children’s lives better and change the systems that are placing them in danger. We listen. We support. We act. Together with our supporters we’re improving the lives of children today and building hope for a better future.