Gang activity & serious youth violence – advice for practitioners

There are a number of areas in which young people are put at risk by gang activity, both through participation in and as victims of gang violence which can be in relation to their peers or to a gang-involved adult in their household.

A child who is affected by gang activity or serious youth violence may have suffered, or may be likely to suffer, significant harm through physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Gang membership isn’t illegal, but once involved members are more likely to commit robbery, assault or drug offences and to carry or use knives and guns.

They may take risks with their physical safety and sexual health and are far more likely to become victims of crime and risk serious injury or even death.

It’s not only boys who join gangs. Young women can be involved as gang members or associates and they are particularly vulnerable to becoming involved in risky sexual behaviour.

Overlapping issues
Children and young people who are involved in gang activity or serious youth violence often also experience criminal exploitation.

These young people will often go missing for days at a time, as they are trafficked around the country by gangs. The number of children who go missing and are exploited through ‘county lines’ is not known. Some of them may not even be reported as missing to the police because of fear of gangs.

Programme Challenger is Greater Manchester’s partnership approach to tackling serious organised crime in all its forms – responding to the problem of organised crime is not solely the responsibility of the police and the criminal justice system. Find out more on their website at www.programmechallenger.co.uk

For more information see our criminal exploitation resource.

What are gangs and why do young people join them?

A group may be a gang if it:

  • has a name
  • has a defined territory
  • uses a specific colour, particularly in clothing
  • uses specific hand gestures or signs
  • uses symbols shown in tattoos or graffiti.

A person will be identified by the police as a gang member if he/she:

  • admits membership to a group which meets the criteria of a gang
  • is identified by a reliable informant as a gang member
  • lives in or frequents a gang’s area and adopts its style of dress or other signs – or associates with known gang members
  • has been arrested in the company of identified gang members for offences consistent with gang activity.

Reasons a young person might join a gang are:

  • protection
  • peer pressure
  • to gain status / respect
  • territory
  • for excitement
  • for money from crime
  • to escape negative situations at home such as neglect or abuse.

Anti-knife crime campaign

In March 2018, the Home Office launched an anti-knife crime advertising campaign to reduce knife crime among young people and challenge perceptions that carrying a knife is normal. The campaign forms part of the government’s Serious Violence Strategy, which sets out action to tackle serious violence by placing new emphasis on steering young people away from crime while continuing to promote the strongest possible law enforcement approach.

The campaign includes a dedicated #knifefree website which provides advice, signposts support services and highlights activities to empower young people to change their behaviour.

For further information visit the website www.knifefree.co.uk or to download resources visit the website www.gov.uk/knifefree-campaign-graphics-and-posters

Policy and procedure 

The MSB has adopted the GMSP procedures in relation to safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity and these can be found online at greatermanchesterscb.proceduresonline.com

Further information & support

NSPCC gangs helpline
The NSPCC Helpline offers advice, information and support to anyone concerned that a child or young person is involved in or at risk from gangs.

Contact the Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or visit their website at www.nspcc.org.uk/dedicated-helplines.

Alternatively, visit the government website at www.gov.uk/nspcc-gangs-service-support-materials for more information and resources.

Watch a short animation (2 minutes 14 seconds) at www.youtube.com which looks at the NSPCC gangs helpline and explores some of the issues affecting young people involved in gangs. The film includes recordings from interviews with families affected by gang involvement.

The report ‘The safeguarding needs of young people in gangs and violent peer groups’ can be found on the NSPCC website.

Growing Against Violence (GAV)
GAV is a public health and public safety programme, delivering evidence based preventative education sessions. It provides a continuum of engagement, with age appropriate sessions delivered universally to students in school years 6 through to 10 (age range approx. 10 – 15); find out more on the GAV website at growingagainstviolence.org.uk

Home Office 
Various resources and reports are available on the following topics:

Childline
Visit their website at www.childline.org.uk/gangs for useful child-centred information.

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