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5.24 Safeguarding Children Affected by Gang Activity and/or Serious Youth Violence

For detailed information, please see Safeguarding Affected by Gang Activity and / or Serious Youth Violence Procedure.

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Criminal Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County Lines guidance (Home Office, 2017)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in September 2020 to add a new Section 9, Other Relevant Information, into which has been added: The NCA, County Lines Drug Supply, Vulnerability and Harm (2018); The Centre for Social Justice: Girls and Gangs; Preventing Gang and Youth Violence: Spotting Signals of Risk and Supporting Children and Young People; Children's Voices - A review of evidence on the subjective wellbeing of children involved in gangs in England (Children's Commissioner, November 2017).


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Gang Activity
  3. Serious Youth Violence
  4. Assessing Levels of Need
  5. Team Around the Child Meeting
  6. Referral to Children's Social Care
  7. Strategy Discussion / Meeting
  8. Role of the Police
  9. Other Relevant Information


1. Introduction

While only a small percentage of children and young people join gangs some studies suggest that homicide and aggravated assault are three times more likely to be committed by gang members.

Recent years have seen increasing national and local concern about the use of firearms as a means of committing crime.

In 2008, again as a result of increasing national and local concern in relation to the use of knives, the Home Office launched a Tackling Knives Action Programme. Fourteen forces were identified nationally as having a knife crime problem; Merseyside Police was identified as one such force, with Liverpool North and South recognised as being affected.

The Safeguarding Children and Young People Affected by Gang Activity And / or Serious Youth Violence Procedure provides guidance for frontline professionals and their managers in all agencies, and individuals in Liverpool's local communities and community groups, on identifying and safeguarding children and young people who are vulnerable to or at risk of harm from involvement in or targeting from:

  • Anti-social behaviour, criminality or serious youth violence perpetrated by their peers in gangs; and
  • Serious youth violence perpetrated by acting on their own.

Where a child is affected by gang activity or serious youth violence, the risk or potential risk of harm to the child may be as a victim, perpetrator or both. Children and young people could be at risk of harm from:

  • Their peers; or
  • Gang-involved or affected adults in their household (including because their parent cannot protect them).

Risk factors for involvement in gangs/serious youth violence include living in areas with high levels of social and economic exclusion; family gang involvement, and exposure to alcohol, drugs, violence and weapons.

Professionals should be aware that young people may be carrying weapons.

Professionals who have contact with children and young people should be competent to identify the combinations of signs and symptoms which can place them at risk of becoming serious and violent offenders/gang-involved.


2. Gang Activity

Groups of children and young people often gather together in public places to socialise, and peer association is an essential feature of most children's transition to adulthood. Groups of children and young people can be disorderly and/or anti-social without engaging in criminal activity.

Children and Young People can also be part of an Organised criminal group - a group of individuals normally led by adults for whom involvement in crime is for personal gain (financial or otherwise). This involves serious and organised criminality by a core of violent gang members who exploit vulnerable young people and adults. This may also involve the movement and selling of drugs and money across the country, known as 'county lines' because it extends across county boundaries. It is a tactic used by groups or gangs to facilitate the selling of drugs in an area outside of the area in which they live, often coordinated by mobile phone and reducing their risk of detection. It almost exclusively involves violence, intimidation and the offer of money or drugs.

Young people can become indebted to gang/groups and exploited in order to pay off debts and may be going missing and travelling to market or seaside towns often by rail but sometimes car or coach. They may have unexplained increases in money or possessions. Young men and women may be at risk of sexual exploitation in these groups.

This guidance is focused on those young people on the periphery of becoming involved with street gangs and those young people already involved in some way. They are described as:

“A relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identity”.


3. Serious Youth Violence

Youth violence, serious or otherwise, may be a function of gang activity. However, it could equally represent the behaviour of a child acting individually in response to his or her particular history and circumstances.

'Serious youth violence' is defined by the Home Office Assessment of Policing and Community Safety (APACS) as 'any offence of most serious violence or weapon enabled crime, where the victim is aged 1-19', i.e. murder, manslaughter, rape, wounding with intent and causing grievous bodily harm. 'Youth violence' is defined in the same way, but also includes assault with injury offences. This definition is used by Merseyside Police.

Most children and young people do not become violent overnight. Their behaviour represents many years of (increasingly) anti-social and aggressive acts.


4. Assessing Levels of Need

Professionals should assess the presenting behaviours / what a child is telling them in the context of whatever information they know or can gather from the child about the risk factors which contribute to the child's vulnerability to gang involvement and serious youth violence.

The tools for making an assessment are:

See also Safeguarding Children and Young People Affected by Gang Activity and / or Serious Youth Violence Procedure, which provides a quick guide to assessments and levels of intervention.


5. Team Around the Child Meeting

If the child is not open to the Youth Offending Service and an Early Help Assessment indicates that more than two agencies should be involved in meeting the child's needs, then the initial EHAT holder (the person starting the EHAT) should set up a Team Around the Child (TAC) Meeting. The professional will need to reach agreement with the child and family about which agencies will be invited. The professional should also consult the local professional with specialist knowledge in relation to gangs and serious youth violence.

If the child is open to the Youth Offending Service then the child will be subject to multi-agency risk management meetings which will be chaired by the Service.


6. Referral to Children's Social Care

If a professional is concerned that a child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm - as a victim or a perpetrator of serious youth violence, gang-related or not - the professional should:

  • Wherever possible, consult with their agency's nominated safeguarding adviser, their manager; and
  • If the threshold is met for Significant Harm, then a referral to Children's Social Care must be made - using the Referral, Investigation and Assessment Procedure.

In appropriate cases, the Children who Abuse Others Procedure should be followed.

Once concerns are raised about harm from gang activity and serious youth violence, there should also be consideration of possible risk to members of the child's family and other in the community. Professionals should be alert to the fact that other children and young people could be identified as being at risk of harm from gang involvement / activity and will then need to be responded to as a child in need of services or protection.


7. Strategy Discussion / Meeting

See also Strategy Discussion / Child Protection Referrals – Safeguarding (s.47) Referrals Procedure.

The Strategy Discussion/Meeting must first establish if either the parents or the child has had access to information about the harmful aspects of gang activity and serious youth violence. If not, the parents/child should be given appropriate information regarding the harmful consequences of gang activity and/or serious youth violence.

If necessary, an interpreter, appropriately trained in all aspects of gang activity and serious youth violence, must be used in all interviews with the family - this person must not be a family relation or member of the local community.

Every attempt should be made to work with parents on a voluntary basis to minimise the harm. It is the duty of the investigating team to look at every possible way that parental co-operation can be achieved, including the use of community organisations and/or community leaders to facilitate the work with parents/family. However, the child's interest is always paramount.

If no agreement is reached, the first priority is the protection of the child and the least intrusive legal action should be taken to ensure the child's safety.

The primary focus is to prevent the child suffering Significant Harm, rather than removal of the child from the family.

If the Strategy Discussion/Meeting decides that the child is in immediate danger and should be removed to or kept in a safe place, then an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) should be sought or Police Protection powers used.


8. Role of the Police

The Police, especially Neighbourhood Policing Teams, should be aware of children and young people living in households which are affected by gang activity and/or serious youth violence. This also includes parents who are adult gang members. The Neighbourhood Policing Teams should share this information internally with child abuse investigation teams (Family Crime Investigation Units) and externally by Referral to Children's Social Care, at the earliest opportunity, for an assessment to be undertaken.

The Police should inform Children's Social Care, wherever possible, of victims of gang-related crime and serious youth violence, given the correlation between victims and future gang members.


9. Other Relevant Information

County Lines Drug Supply, Vulnerability and Harm (2018)

The Centre for Social Justice: Girls and Gangs

Preventing Gang and Youth Violence: Spotting Signals of Risk and Supporting Children and Young People

Children's Voices - A review of evidence on the subjective wellbeing of children involved in gangs in England (Children's Commissioner, November 2017)

End