In Depth

How 30,000 children ended up in street gangs

Experts point finger at school exclusion policies and middle-class drug users

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More than 30,000 children aged between ten and 15 have been sucked into violent street gangs, according to new research ordered by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield.

In total, 73,000 people under the age of 25 are self-defined gang members, says the Vulnerability Study, to be released next month.

These youths, the vast majority of whom are boys, are being drawn in from across the country, Longfield warns.

The research will “fuel concerns about the country’s violent crime epidemic”, says The Times.

How did the situation get so bad?

Rise in school exclusions

Longfield told The Times that gangs are recruiting new members at pupil referral units - maintained by local authorities to provide education for pupils who are excluded from school or unable to attend for other reasons. Excluded pupils are increasingly being targeted in rural areas, as well as in big cities, but authorities are ignoring the risk, she said, adding: “Parents have told me that police and teachers don’t believe what they are telling them about gangs. It’s still not seen as a countrywide threat.”

Middle-class drug users

Olivia Pinkney, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead officer for children and young people, has criticised middle-class drug users who “have Fairtrade coffee and condemn sweatshop clothes and child slavery and then take recreational drugs”. She accused them of “supporting gangs” and “destroying children’s lives”.

Targeted grooming

Children as young as ten are being groomed by drug dealers using a “systematic and well-rehearsed business model”, said Longfield. Drawing parallels with the Rotherham sex abuse scandal, the commissioner said victims were being ignored when they tried to tell teachers and police.

Dame Louise Casey, who led the government inquiry into Rotherham, agrees, saying: “These are vulnerable children, being targeted by predators who make them feel they are part of something.”

Many of the children who are groomed have grown up in difficult circumstances. “Instead of thinking these are all bad lads, we have to ask, what is it about the family and society which means they’re more likely to be groomed? They are perpetrators but they are also victims,” said Casey.

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