Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has published an in-depth study looking at children in England who are members of gangs. The report is published as the Commissioner hosts a summit today (Thursday) bringing together Police and Crime Commissioners, senior police officers and chairs of local safeguarding boards, to hold these agencies to account and ask how they plan to keep children involved in gangs safe.
Today’s report, “Keeping kids safe: Improving safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation”, estimates there are 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 is the estimated 34,000 children who know gang members who have experienced serious violence in the last year.
The research looks into the characteristics of children involved in gangs. Compared to other children known to social services or other child offenders, those with gang associations are:
The report also shows how a number of early warning signs of gang-based violence have been on the rise in recent years:
As part of the research, 25 Local Safeguarding Children Boards in ‘high-risk’ areas were asked 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 the levels of gang activity and risk among children in their area, and that it was often the areas with the highest levels of gang violence that had the least information. Most areas had identified only a handful of children whom they believed to be in gangs or at risks of gangs, and only one had an estimate of the actual scale of child gang membership.
The report also suggests safeguarding boards are frequently failing to investigate properly child deaths where gang violence was a factor. As a result, there is little evidence that they can ensure lessons are learnt in terms of protecting other children.
While there are now many government initiatives to tackle serious violence, there is still too much fragmentation across Whitehall. The Children’s Commissioner makes a number of recommendations in today’s report:
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, commenting on today’s report, said:
“The 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. At the moment it is too easy for them to succeed. 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.”