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, as we will see below have very clear structures and tasks.

Definition of a gang

A gang is a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who see themselves as a discernible group, engage in a range of criminal activities, identify or lay claim over territory, have some form of identifying structural feature, and are in conflict with other, similar gangs.

Children’s Commissioner, 2019


Quotation marks

Youth violence is often synonymous with gangs.  Over recent years there has been increasing concern about knife crime, however recent reports by the Police indicate that the tide may be turning following a prolonged campaign to reduce levels of knife crime.

A recent parliamentary report (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.

Violence is used primarily as a means of coercion and control, and this can also include sexual violence.  Any violent attack (be it physical or sexual) can have life-changing consequences (visible or otherwise) and as we have seen above, can lead to fatalities.

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

Reasons for joining a gang

  • gangs provide a sense of belonging and purpose
  • to get respect / status or power
  • 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

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.
  • 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.


  • 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.

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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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