Gangs and youth violence

Whilst many areas will not have issues with gangs and youth violence, where it does occur it can cause significant impact on schools, children and young people.

Gangs can be organized based upon race, ethnicity, territory, or moneymaking activities, and are generally made up of members ages 8 to 22. Members of gangs wear specific articles of clothing to be recognized as part of the group such as bandanas, hats, scarves of certain colours, or gang related tattoos or symbols. Gangs are one of the leading factors for growth of violent crimes both on and off school property. When joining a gang, often there is an initiation that needs to be passed. This initiation is usually a violent crime that could include theft, murder, gang-rape or drive-by shootings. (DOSOMETHING, online 2018)


“A relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who:
1. see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group;
2. engage in criminal activity and violence;
3.and may also lay claim over territory (not necessarily geographical, but can include an illegal economy territory);
4. have some form of identifying structural feature;
5.and/or be in conflict with other, similar, gangs”.

– Centre for Social Justice’s report Dying to Belong (2009)


“youth violence” is community/public space violence committed by young people under the age of 25”.

There were 74,800 arrests of children and young people (aged 10 – 17) by the police in England and Wales. This has decreased by 79% over the last 10 years and by 14% in the last year.

13,500 youth cautions were given to children and young people in England and Wales. This is a decrease of 90% compared with 10 years ago and a decrease of 20% compared with the previous year.

Risk factors

  •  anti-social behaviours
  • previously committed offences
  • substance use
  • aggression
  • running away and truancy
  • low self-esteem
  • substance misuse
  • child in care
  • suffered abuse
  • friends which display similar traits
  • chaotic home life
  • poor parental supervision, often from an early age
  • low academic achievement
  • low attendance

Reasons for joining a gang

  • gangs provide a sense of belonging and purpose
  • to make money (illegally)
  • recruited by other gang members and are pressured to join
  • boredom
  • poverty
  • feeling they will not find a better life or good job

Spotting the signs

  • aggression
  • non-compliance at school
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty developing relationships
  • reduction in attendance and/or attainment
  • eating disorder
  • low self-esteem, depression or anxiety
  • self-harm
  • substance misuse
  • change in behaviour and appearance

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.

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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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