How are we supporting children and young people at risk of, or involved in, gang violence? Task
A gang can mean different things in different situations. It isn’t illegal to be in a gang unless the gang is involved in illegal activity. There are different types of gangs you may have heard about:
- Peer group
A small and unorganised group of people who share the same space and have common interests. Involvement in crime does not form a part of the group’s identity. Often school children form peer groups.
- Street gangs
Members of street gangs are usually young people who have a collective identity and meet regularly. Involvement in crime is important to the identity of the group.
- Criminal gangs
Members of criminal gangs are involved in crime for personal gain (financial or otherwise). These gangs use illegal marketplaces which are unregulated by the law.
Peer groups of young people often form a part of young peoples’ social development. Sometimes groups of young people can engage in antisocial behaviour such as littering, being noisy, and street drinking. These activities should not be confused with the serious violence and crime that can be associated with criminal gangs.
The legal definition of gang-related violence is when violence or the threat of violence comes from a group of at least three people, and the group has one or more characteristics so that gang members can be identified by other people.
There are many different reasons that children and young people may become involved in a gang. Where they live or who their family is may contribute. If they have been expelled from school, they may feel they don’t have a future and join a gang because they feel they have no other options. Other reasons can include peer pressure, feeling respected and important, and the promise of money, security and protection.
Organised criminal gangs want to recruit children because they attract less suspicion than adults and are given lighter sentences.
There are many signs that a child or young person may have joined a gang. Talking about your concerns with the young person is the first step to helping them, and the sooner you do so, the better. Signs may include:
- Not going to school or doing badly in school
- Having a new nickname
- Spending time with someone older
- Going missing or staying out late without reason
- Being angry, aggressive or violent
- Being isolated or withdrawn
- Buying new things and/or having unexplained money
- Wearing clothes or accessories in gang colours or getting tattoos
- Using new slang words
- Spending more time on social media and being secretive about time online
- Making more calls or sending more texts, possibly on a new phone
- Taking drugs and alcohol abuse
- Committing petty crimes (e.g. shoplifting or vandalism)
- Carrying weapons
There are several ways of preventing children and young people from joining a gang. Talking to them and listening to what they have to say is really important. You can try speaking to them about the impact of illegal or violent behaviour. They may not realise that they are being influenced and are putting themselves at risk.
Try to be aware of where they are going when they’re out and who they are spending time with or talking to on social media. Getting to know their friends and their friends’ families will help you to know when they might need support or when they might be at risk.
Encouraging the child or young person to get involved in positive activities such as sports or clubs can also help. Talk to them about what they want to do in the future and how to achieve it. Try to educate them about coping with pressure and resolving conflicts without using violence.
If you’re concerned about a child or young person, the sooner you reach out for help, the better. You can contact the police, the NSPCC, Children’s Services via your local council, or the safeguarding lead at their school.
The government and policymakers are working together to prevent youths from engaging in or having an interest in gang violence. The government began a programme in 2011 aimed at ending gang and youth violence. This programme was updated in 2016, with refreshed priorities for tackling gang-related violence and the exploitation of young people.
These priorities are:
- Tackling county lines (using vulnerable people to sell drugs)
- Protecting vulnerable locations (places where vulnerable young people can be targeted, including children’s care homes)
- Reducing violence and knife crime
- Safeguarding women and girls who are associated with gangs
- Promoting early intervention (to identify and support vulnerable children and young people)
- Promoting meaningful alternatives to gangs (such as education, training and employment)
The government has advice and guidance available on the gov.uk website, such as:
- Practical advice for schools and colleges on preventing youth violence and gang involvement (PDF)
- Safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity (PDF)
There are also legal tools available for illegal gang activity called injunctions. These allow the police or a local authority to apply to a court for an injunction against an individual involved in illegal gang activity. An injunction is a court order either stopping someone from taking a particular action or requiring them to take a particular action. The condition of the injunction could be stopping someone from being in a certain place or requiring someone to take part in community service. Gang injunctions aim to prevent individuals from engaging in gang-related violence or illegal activity.