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The Prime Minister’s decision to tackle the gang leaders who are targeting our kids through a cross-government Cabinet committee should be applauded. For far too long, entrenched problems with certain groups of teenagers have been passed around Whitehall and from one service to another on the ground. Teenagers with similar needs can be found in mental health hospitals, secure children’s homes, and child jails, depending on how they first come into contact with services.

The problem of ‘county lines’ gangs often involves one of these groups of teenagers – those expelled from school, recruited from pupil referral centres, many of them needing mental health support but not getting it. Eventually they tip into the care system or the criminal justice system. The police tell me these teens are in need of social care support rather than policing intervention. Partly as a result, the number of teenagers coming into care has risen sharply to try to protect them from criminal gangs. This then puts new pressure on a care system not established to deal with the fallout from the criminal exploitation of children.

This is primarily a criminal and not a social care issue; these children need the protection of the police; and the Prime Minister’s willingness to ‘cut the head off the snake’, as you put it, and tackle the criminal gangs at source, is exactly what the problem needs.

This letter was published in The Times, 16 Jan 2020.

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