New Horizon welcomes the Children’s Commissioner‘s 'Keeping kids safe' report on the effectiveness of current safeguarding rules in responding to gang violence and criminal exploitation.
The report states that 27,000 young people identify as a gang member, with many more on the periphery and also at risk. In contrast, only 6,560 gang-affiliated young people are known to children’s services or youth offending teams, a disparity which is deeply concerning.
Our own experience of vulnerable, marginalised children being criminally exploited, often by drug dealers is borne out by the report’s findings that young people are being recruited into gangs at an ever-younger age. It is very troubling therefore to read the report’s assertion that local safeguarding boards seem to be mostly unaware of the level of risk to these children and the violence used to intimidate and control them.
Having supported hundreds of young people affected by serious youth violence and criminal exploitation, we constantly see how interlinked vulnerabilities can lead to gang involvement. The Children’s Commissioner rightly outlines domestic violence, deprivation, permanent school exclusion, and lack of mental health support as key, often connected risk factors. Evaluation of our own work also shows that family or individual homelessness contributes to such vulnerabilities and risks in the lives of most of these young people, with implications for housing departments at local authority and governmental levels.
We particularly welcome the report’s recommendations that young people involved in gangs should be seen as victims. Our experience is that those commonly seen as perpetrators have in fact suffered abuse and exploitation. They have likely been assaulted themselves and many have seen friends and relatives attacked or killed, leading to post traumatic stress disorder – often undiagnosed and untreated. The Children’s Commissioner estimates that last year a staggering 34,000 young people in or at the periphery of a gang were victim of violence.
New Horizon’s work is at the forefront of efforts to address these risk factors, supporting vulnerable young people using a public health approach, with integrated specialist mental health support. Key to our successful work with them is our ability to build long-term, trusting relationships with those who may not have any other trustworthy adult in their lives. This work has recently been expanded, allowing us to work with a younger client group than ever before and to have an even greater impact through early intervention.
We are glad to see the shortcomings in safeguarding in relation to young people and criminal gangs acknowledged by the Children’s Commissioner. Our experience is that current measures are hopelessly inadequate at protecting those at risk, and we support her recommendation that there should be more joined-up work and government funding.
We hope the report will spur decision-makers to take action to protect vulnerable, marginalised young people who are far too often seen simply as the perpetrators of crime, with no acknowledgment of the abusive, exploitative and violent situations they suffer.
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