27,000 children aged between 10 and 17 in England identify as a gang member, only a fraction of whom are known to children’s services, according to a new report by the Children’s Commissioner.
The report adds that some of these children may only identify loosely with a gang and may not be involved in crime or serious violence: more concerning is the estimated 34,000 children who know gang members who have experienced serious violence in the last year.
According to the report, gangs “set out to prey on vulnerable children” – and those suffering from mental health issues or abuse and neglect in their family life are particularly susceptible.
A street gang is defined as a group of young people who hang around together and have a specific area or territory, have a name or other identifier, possibly have rules or a leader, and who may commit crimes together.
The research also looks into the characteristics of children involved in gangs. Compared to other children known to social services or other child offenders, those with gang associations are:
95% more likely to have social, emotional and mental health issues and more than twice as likely to be self-harming
41% more likely to have a parent or carer misusing substances and eight times more likely to be misusing substances themselves
37% more likely to have witnessed domestic violence
37% more likely to be missing/absent from school
The report also shows how a number of early warning signs of gang-based violence have been on the rise in recent years:
Referrals to children’s services where gangs were identified as an issue rose by 26% between 2015/16 and 2016/17
Permanent exclusions rose by 67% between 2012/13 and 2016/17
Hospital admissions for children who have been assaulted with a sharp object rose 20% between 2015/16 and 2016/17
The number of children cautioned/convicted for possession of weapons offences rose 12% between 2016 and 2017
Having read today’s report, it is clear that the onus is on us all to protect vulnerable children.