There is limited evidence that many of the areas that are most susceptible to gang violence have adequate plans to tackle the problem, while mistakes that led to high-profile child abuse scandals are being repeated in relation to the criminal exploitation of young people, the Children’s Commissioner has warned.
In a report published today, Anne Longfield said there needs to be a “paradigm change in thinking” and called on the government to “face-up to the scale of the challenge” by providing adequate resources to identify and support vulnerable children.
Using population level estimates of gang association, the Keeping Kids Safe report said there are about 34,000 children nationally who either in a gang or on the periphery of a gang.
Combining data from youth offending teams and children’s services for 2018, the research concluded there 6,560 of these children are known to councils.
Researchers contacted local safeguarding children boards in 25 areas considered hot-spots for gang culture to ask about their response to gang violence and criminal exploitation, including details of how many gang members and children vulnerable to being drawn in to gangs as well as their families were being supported.
Of these safeguarding boards, eight failed to respond. Liverpool provided the most comprehensive information, with a breakdown between organised crime groups and urban street gangs. Birmingham and Knowsley used similar definitions.
However, these areas were described as the exception, with the report saying some areas questioned whether the issues were relevant to them.
One unspecified safeguarding board said they could not distinguish between “perpetrators and victims”.
The numbers of children identified in London and the south east tended to be small, the report said, with some London boroughs with high levels of youth violence estimating gang membership at 12 children.
Some counties known to experience county lines activity were said to have identified less than 20 gang members.
The report cited the inspectorates of the police, health services, probation and children’s services jointly calling for organisations working with children to “learn from the mistakes of child sexual exploitation” by “treating children as victims not perpetrators”.
Ms Longfield said: “This report shows that those calls have not been heeded. Instead, I find that all the mistakes that led to serious safeguarding failings in relation to [child sexual exploitation] in towns up and down the country are now being repeated.
“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.”
Responding to a report, Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, said the exploitation of children and vulnerable young people is a growing problem that councils take “extremely seriously”.
He added: “Councils are working hard to identify and protect children and young people at risk of abuse through county lines activity, but this is increasingly difficult in a climate of ongoing funding cuts and soaring demand for urgent child protection work.”