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The Government has committed to using a public health approach to gang violence – that is all agencies working in partnership to prevent violence by tackling the underlying causes of child criminal exploitation. Ministers have committed £35 million to Police and Crime Commissioners to set up Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) across 18 police forces, tasked with understanding, and responding to the situation in their local area. However, insufficient attention has been paid to the need for agencies in other areas to adopt both a safeguarding and public health response across the country, working in partnership with local police forces. This has meant little work to incentivise, and crucially, monitor and oversee the implementation of action taken by public health bodies themselves and by children’s services.

This report shows that the vast majority of Local Authorities do not have a sufficient grip on the drivers for youth violence in their areas, nor do they have a cogent strategy to reduce risk factors in vulnerable cohorts. Most were not tracking local school exclusions – widely acknowledged as a trigger for a significant escalation of risk for children. Drug misuse is also a key risk factor for gang exploitation, however the numbers of children accessing drug treatment has fallen by 41% nationally.

This is particularly concerning as we understand more about the ever-evolving models that gangs use to exploit children. These gangs act like sophisticated and entrepreneurial businesses, and as we have seen many businesses adapt their models to capitalise on the pandemic, so too have criminal gangs.

This research was undertaken before the pandemic, which is only likely to have increased vulnerability further.