Gangs and youth violence

Gangs and youth violence are a growing problem across the country. Membership of gangs and associated youth violence can have a devastating impact on children and young people and their families.

Being part of a peer group is seen as a normal part of childhood development.  Peer groups are however less defined and organised than gangs and membership of peer groups is fairly fluid, i.e. members can come and go as they please.  It is also relatively normal for groups of children to get together in public places as this allows them to share news, ideas, etc. and also potentially do things that they would not be able to get away with whilst under the watchful eyes of adults.  For some this may involve low level criminality, however this does not necessarily make them a gang – gangs have clear structures and tasks.

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Definition of a gang

A gang is relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group and engage in a range of criminal activity and violence. They may also identify with or lay claim over territory, have some form of identifying structure feature, and/or are in conflict with other, similar gangs.

Adapted from Serious youth violence: County lines drug dealing and the Government response, 2022

Quotation marks

In 2020-21, 12,720 children assessed by children’s social care were deemed to be at risk due to gang involvement and this is likely only the tip of the iceberg as many gangs are still unknown to the authorities. Youth violence is often synonymous with gangs.  Over recent years there has been continuing concern about knife crime. A parliamentary report in 2019 showed that there was evidence that children and young people aged 15-24 years old were disproportionately represented, making up almost 50% of those killed with a gun or a knife in London, but only making up 12% of the population of London.

Ministry of Justice statistics for 2020-21 show that children and young people (aged 10-17) were in court for being in possession of a knife or offensive weapon in 19% of cases. Also, of those people admitted to hospital for assault by sharp object, 17% were aged 18 or younger. Any violent attack (be it physical or sexual) can have life-changing consequences (visible or otherwise) and can lead to fatalities.

There is also a strong link to ‘County lines’ which is described by the government as “gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.”

Approximately 20% of those involved in county lines are children. The National County Lines Coordination Centre reports that the average age of children involved in county lines drug dealing is between 15 and 16 years old, although there have been reports of children as young as 12 years old being involved.

Vulnerable groups

  • Chaotic home life where children are not priority;
  • Poor supervision from an early age;
  • Issues within home (e.g. domestic abuse, mental ill health);
  • Familial history of offending;
  • Children with additional needs;
  • Poor engagement with education;
  • Poor self-image / self-worth;
  • Looked after children;
  • Children who have been permanently excluded from school.

Reasons for joining a gang

  • gangs provide a sense of belonging and purpose;
  • to get respect / status or power;
  • for protection;
  • recruited by other gang members and are pressured to join;
  • boredom;
  • poverty;
  • feeling they will not find a better life or good job;
  • financial gain (legal or otherwise).

Spotting the signs

  • aggression and / or non-compliance;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • difficulty developing relationships;
  • reduction in attendance and /or attainment / missing episodes;
  • low self-esteem, depression or anxiety;
  • self-harm;
  • substance misuse;
  • change in behaviour and appearance;
  • unexplained possessions;
  • refusal to enter certain areas;
  • new nickname or starts to use tags/graffiti on books/possessions.

What you can do

  • Create an environment based on equality and informed choice – provide information to allow pupils to make informed choices. It is well established that success in learning is one of the most powerful indicators in the prevention of youth crime.
  • Check young people have safe relationships – in their family, with their peers and with your staff. Create the environment where it’s ok to talk even about the most difficult things.
  • Contextual approach – be aware of the risks to children and young people in your local area in relation to gangs and youth violence.
  • Spot the signs & know what to do – use the checklists above, your safeguarding procedures and be confident in raising gang and youth violence as a possibility.
  • Take action – and keep taking action until you know they’re safe.

Resources

  • Power The Fight: Therapeutic Intervention for Peace (TIP) Report

    A report commissioned by London’s Violence Reduction Unit to explore young people’s experiences of recovering from youth violence in order to inform how we work, and how young people talk about their experiences.

  • Preventing and reducing serious violence: Draft Guidance for responsible authorities.

    The guidance explains the forthcoming new serious violence duty which takes a multi-agency approach to understand the causes and consequences of serious violence, focuses on prevention and early intervention, and is informed by evidence. It will ensure that relevant services work together to share data and knowledge and allow them to target their interventions to prevent serious violence. Specific information for education settings can be found in paragraphs 110-118.

  • Fearless

    Fearless is the Crimestoppers youth service aimed at 11-16 year olds. It is tasked with increasing awareness of the dangers surrounding street crime, drugs and violence. Armed with a belief in the power of prevention and intervention, Fearless aims to help our future generations navigate a safe path to adulthood.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings
  • Reference documents for additional information
  • Handout for school staff summarising gangs and youth violence
  • Quiz to test staff understanding
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