A new report by the Children’s Commissioner has revealed that over 27,000 children in England, some as young as 10, belong to ruthless gangs.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, published her study as she hosted a summit on Thursday bringing together police and crime commissioners, senior police officers and chairs of local safeguarding boards.
The report, “Keeping Kids Safe: Improving Safeguarding Responses to Gang Violence and Criminal Exploitation’’, estimates that only a fraction of child gang-members are known to children’s services.
Longfield 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 attention must be paid to protecting them.”
Her report said some children may only identify loosely with a gang and may not be involved in crime or serious violence, but the most important is the estimated 34,000 children who know gang members and who have experienced violence in 2018.
The research has looked into the characteristics of children involved in gangs and found 95 per cent more likely to have social, emotional and mental health issues and more than twice as likely to be self-harming.
The stark figures also revealed that 41 per cent more likely to have a parent or carer who misuses substances.
Over a third of gang members are more likely to have witnessed domestic violence, with 37 per cent more likely to be missing or absent from their schools.
Other signs pointing to children belonging to gangs include a 20 per cent rise in children assaulted with a sharp object between 2016 and 2017, and a 67 per cent rise between 2012 and 2017 in the number of kids permanently excluded from their schools.
Longfield’s report also suggested that official children’s 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.
“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,’’ Longfield said.
The report called on the national government to make child criminal exploitation a national priority, and lay out clear expectations about the role of all organisations working with children, including the police, schools, children’s services and NHS bodies.