A spotlight on youth violence – by Janet Scott, CACHE Subject Specialist

As I sit with my morning coffee listening to the news, I hear about the death of yet another young person; a victim of youth-on-youth violence.  Sadly, these stories now dominate our news headlines, appearing with increasing regularity. 

The homicide rate in England and Wales is at its highest for a decade; so is the number of teenagers killed with knives. Additionally, the number of those under 16 treated for stab wounds by the NHS has nearly doubled in five years. It seems the lives of some young people have become increasingly violent and the impact of knife crime and gang culture is more widespread than ever before.

What is happening to our children I wonder?

The Children’s Commissioner’s recent study  Keeping kids safe: Improving safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation(1), estimates there are 27,000 children in England who identify as a gang member, only a fraction of whom are known to children’s services.  27,000!

Why do children and young people join gangs in such numbers?

For some, I guess it is the misguided draw of money, glamour or status. For others I sense it is to seek out the security and loyalty they are missing from their vulnerable lives, in the belief that a gang will provide a missing sense of stability and community. Turbulent family relationships fraught with drugs, alcohol abuse and domestic violence or a disengagement from school or college can all contribute to the many reasons why some young people will join a gang.

It’s an evocative word, ‘Gang’.

The young female gang member being interviewed says.” We are all just friends, we‘re like a family. It’s about how we dress, what music we’re into, you know”.

Is this a peer group or a gang?

Some will view a gang as a friendship group that has been formed gradually over time. To others, there is a clear distinction between peer groups and gangs based on the level of violence and criminal activity. Peer pressure, violence and coercion seem to come with the territory. Girls get involved in relationships with gang members for protection and a sense of status. The harsh reality is that they are commonly victims of sexual aggression. Far from the bold, brash or violent stereotype image, many gang members have been groomed and underneath are fragile, afraid and susceptible to abuse.

Another news report introduces Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England. She says: “Gangs are using sophisticated techniques to groom vulnerable children and using chilling levels of violence to retain them” (2). She goes on to stress that “those suffering from special educational needs and mental health issues are particularly vulnerable to grooming by gangs.”

In 2018 Ofsted carried out research (3) into how schools are dealing with knife crime, looking at how they are protecting children and young people and how they are educating them about the dangers of weapons. Ofsted established “that there are head teachers who refuse to acknowledge that knife crime affects their school. They worry that by taking action, and talking about knife crime, they would be admitting their school had an issue. This is immensely depressing, and shows that these schools have lost sight of their job in building children’s resilience and teaching them how to stay safe”.

I recall the tragic case of a young 14-year-old boy called Corey Junior Davis (4) who was shot dead in a London playground in 2017 after repeatedly telling his mother, police and social workers how he feared for his life.

Corey had been excluded from school, which opened the door and let gangs into his life. Gangs know that once children have been excluded, they are much more vulnerable and easier to groom.

Corey was labelled a drug runner, a criminal, an offender. His distraught mother who had pleaded for help, referred to her son as a victim, recruited and exploited by gangs. 

A child who had slipped through the safeguarding net.

“The failings that let grooming gangs sexually abuse girls for decades are being repeated for tens of thousands of children being exploited by criminal networks”, the Children’s Commissioner warned recently.

Anne Longfield calls on professionals to “learn from the mistakes of child sexual exploitation and treat children as victims not perpetrators.” She goes on to say, “There are also changes we can make in schools. The Government has been in favour of ‘life skills lessons’, and for some children this should include information on the risks of becoming involved in gangs and an understanding of how some gangs target children. Building resilience to reject the attractions of gang membership is essential. Most schools do provide life skills lessons but rarely do they tackle this issue.”

At CACHE, we support the message put forward by The Children’s Commissioner to put a spotlight on safeguarding our children and young people from grooming. We believe more needs to be done to support front line staff in spotting and dealing with safeguarding issues. We also welcome the government’s recent announcement that a £9.8 million fund will be set up to confront knife crime and gang culture. 

We have developed a range of qualifications that help build the knowledge and skills of our workforce in schools and colleges, those working with young children and the vulnerable.

Through our qualifications, we seek to raise the profile for building children’s resilience, empowerment, positive mental well-being, having a safe space to relax and play and life skills. Importantly, our qualifications ensure learners understand how to safeguard children and recognise when a child or young person is at risk of grooming.

In addition, educators and CACHE learners, past and present, have free access to our continued professional development resources via our Alumni service. This service provides informative and thought-provoking articles written by sector experts as well as bringing you important updates across all sectors.

You can read The Children’s Commissioner’s full report and others articles by visiting www.cachealumni.org.uk