William Eichler 28 February 2019

Councils ‘failing’ children exploited by gangs, report reveals

The same mistakes that led to child sexual exploitation failings are being repeated with gangs, the children’s commissioner has warned.

A new report from Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has revealed that many safeguarding boards have no information on the levels of gang activity and risk among children in their area.

The commissioner’s report, entitled Keeping Kids Safe, estimates that there are 27,000 children in England who identify as a gang member. An estimated 34,000 know gang members who have experienced violence in the last year.

However, despite these high figures, Ms Longfield warned that less than half of child offenders involved in gangs are being supported by children’s services.

She also discovered that safeguarding boards are frequently failing to investigate gang-related child deaths properly.

‘The criminal gangs operating in England are complex and ruthless organisations, using sophisticated techniques to groom children, and chilling levels of violence to keep them compliant,’ said Ms Longfield.

‘At the moment it is too easy for them to succeed. Thousands of children in towns and cities across England are at risk and the same attention must be paid to protecting them as to other major threats to children.’

‘However, I am worried that all the mistakes that led to serious safeguarding failings in relation to child sexual exploitation in towns and cities up and down the country are now being repeated,’ she continued.

‘Many local areas are not facing up to the scale of the problem, they are not taking notice of the risk factors in front of them, and they are not listening to parents and communities who ask for help.’

Responding to the report, Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘Councils are working hard to identify and protect children and young people at risk of abuse through county lines activity, but this is increasingly difficult in a climate of ongoing funding cuts and soaring demand for urgent child protection work.

‘Children’s services are now starting more than 500 child protection investigations every day, but face a £3.1bn funding gap by 2025. This is forcing councils to divert funding away from preventative work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm.

‘To help stop young people being criminally exploited or groomed, it is vital that government reverses years of funding cuts to local youth services, youth offending teams and councils’ public health budgets, which needs to be addressed in the Spending Review.’

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