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Gangs groom children: report

Criminal gangs operating in England are complex and ruthless organisations, using sophisticated techniques to groom children, and chilling levels of violence to keep them compliant. It is too easy for them to succeed, according to the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield.

A report by her office, “Keeping kids safe: Improving safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation”, quotes official ONS crime survey estimates of some 27,000 children in England who identify as a gang member; only a fraction of whom are known to children’s services. Some of these children may only identify loosely with a gang and may not be involved in crime or serious violence: more concerning, the report says, is the estimated 34,000 children who know gang members who have experienced serious violence in the last year.

Early warning signs of gang-based violence have been on the rise in recent years, the report says, such as hospital admissions for children who have been assaulted with a sharp object; and children cautioned or convicted for possession of weapons.

The report authors asked 25 Local Safeguarding Children Boards in ‘high-risk’ areas about their response to gang violence and criminal exploitation, including their estimates of the numbers of children in gangs or at risk of being drawn into gangs. The responses showed many areas had no information on gang activity and risk among children in their area; and often the areas with the most gang violence had the least information. As for tackling serious violence, the report complained of still too much fragmentation across Whitehall.

In the words of the report, gangs ‘prey upon marginalised children who have often been let down by multiple agencies. As well as gang members, there are many gang associates and others on the periphery, not given the status of membership but being groomed and exploited by gangs. Many of these children don’t feel that they have any choice.’ They are enticed with bribes; but once a child is within a gang, extricating them is very hard. The authorities may only intervene when things have become ‘much worse’, as Anne Longfield said in the report’s foreword.

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She said: “Thousands of children in towns and cities across England are at risk and the same attention must be paid to protecting them as to other major threats to children. However, I am worried that all the mistakes that led to serious safeguarding failings in relation to child sexual exploitation in towns and cities up and down the country are now being repeated. Many local areas are not facing up to the scale of the problem, they are not taking notice of the risk factors in front of them, and they are not listening to parents and communities who ask for help. Less than half of child offenders involved in gangs are being supported by children’s services.

“The Government and local areas need to face up to the scale of this challenge, and ensure the priority and resources are allocated to helping these children, because it is clear to me that we are not doing enough to protect them from harm. No child should end up as a headline about gangland murder or the subject of a Serious Case Review simply because nobody thought it was their job to keep them safe.”

The report urged ‘a life-course approach’, that agencies do their job, and that Government co-ordinate a national response. For the 39-page report in full visit https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/.

For the Local Government Association, Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “The exploitation of children and vulnerable young people by gangs is a significant and growing concern for councils, who take this issue extremely seriously. Effective partnership working at a local level between councils, the police, health services, charities and community organisations is essential to tackle and prevent violent crime by young people and safeguard those exploited by criminal gangs.

“Councils are working hard to identify and protect children and young people at risk of abuse through county lines activity, but this is increasingly difficult in a climate of ongoing funding cuts and soaring demand for urgent child protection work. Children’s services are now starting more than 500 child protection investigations every day, but face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025. This is forcing councils to divert funding away from preventative work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm.

“To help stop young people being criminally exploited or groomed, it is vital that government reverses years of funding cuts to local youth services, youth offending teams and councils’ public health budgets, which needs to be addressed in the Spending Review.”


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